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.