Popular Science

How to survive a tsunami

We asked experts how to live through one of nature’s most powerful disasters.

During the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the wave swept away a gas station in Otsuchi, causing a fire that burned down what remained of the town.

NOAA/NGDC, Japanese Red Cross

On May 22, 1960, the largest earthquake ever measured struck off the coast of southern Chile. Once the shaking stopped, Denis García, a resident of the nearby port town Corral, noticed something odd. He was searching for his family, not realizing they were safe and on high ground, when he caught sight of Corral Bay. The waters had drawn back, leaving the seafloor bare. García went to investigate. He did not see the 40-foot-high tsunami barreling toward him until it was too late.

Caught in the swirling water, he clung to a piece of debris for hours before meeting another survivor and climbing onto the roof of a house as it floated by, he told interviewers decades later. Meanwhile, the tsunami swept across the Pacific. It’s estimated that the Great Chilean Earthquake and the tsunami that followed claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Around 80 percent of tsunamis begin along the Pacific Ocean’s seismically active “Ring of Fire.” In the United States, Hawaii, Alaska, and the west coast have the highest tsunami risk. But these mega waves can strike in any ocean, and travel across the sea to cause mayhem far from their source about twice per decade.

Denis García was lucky. Most people do not survive being swept into a tsunami. But there are a few ways you can protect yourself from these natural disasters. Your exact strategy will depend on where you are, and will go a lot more smoothly if you have planned in advance.

“It’s easy to say, ‘That

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