What It's Like To Be Swept Away By A Tsunami

The best movie depiction of how terrifying it is to be swept up in a tidal wave that I've ever seen is the opening of the recent Clint Eastwood movie Hereafter, which will be out on DVD next Tuesday. You can see Clint's depiction of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami on Youtube here. I watched home videos shot by survivors who managed to keep their cameras above the water, and Hereafter's version looks about right about what it would be like if you couldn't.

By the way, it's time to revive the old term "tidal wave" as a complement to the Japanese term "tsunami." During my childhood, most Americans used the term tidal wave, but scientists and science journalists waged a war against it on the simpleminded grounds that tidal waves weren't caused by tides. So, by switching to tsunami, we lost the metaphorically powerful term tidal wave, which does a much better job of hinting at the peculiar horror of this phenomenon compared to normal waves. It's not the height of the front of the tidal wave that is so destructive -- lots of people have surfed waves as tall. It's that, unlike regular beach waves, the water level doesn't go down after the front passes. It's as if the tide has suddenly risen, but with a great velocity to the water rolling in. In cross-section, a tidal wave isn't an inverted V, it's like an inverted L that just keeps going.