Human scale.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Dec. 27 2004 12:21 PM

Human Scale

The world press finds local angles to Sunday's tsunami disaster.

Tsunami damage in Thailand
Tsunami damage in Thailand

As the world watches horrifying images of flood, death, and wreckage from the tsunami-devastated regions of Asia, and with preliminary estimates of more than 20,000 dead, international media are highlighting local angles to the unfathomable natural disaster. In India and the other hard-hit countries of the region, that coverage ranges from broad humanitarian, economic, and policy-driven stories to narrowly focused spotlights on individual communities that sustained particularly harsh damage. In a dramatic account from the fishing village of Kollam, the Times of India wrote that every family had surely lost at least one loved one. "What awaited 39-year-old Sajeevan, when he returned from fishing on Sunday was the shocking news that his wife and daughter had been swallowed by surging waves," the paper reported. "Frightened by surging waters, many people had shut themselves up [in] their houses, which exposed them to greater danger than those who sought to escape the surging waters by running away, local people said."

The Times of India is filled with tales of human tragedy, such as the story of a 9-year-old Muslim boy who watched his mother and sister get swept away by a huge wave when the three had gone to the beach for a "holy dip" in Krishna province. "God saved me," he wailed, "but why?"

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New Kerala, from a region in India that sustained heavy damage and a high death toll, ran a banner link at the top of its Web site's homepage that provided an explanation of the tsunami's characteristics. While these massive waves have occurred in other parts of Asia, it noted that this is the first time a tsunami has hit India.

Further afield, newspapers supplemented their coverage of the devastation with a focus on "locals" who were caught in the havoc. The Australian interviewed a Perth woman who had just started a vacation in Thailand by taking a walk on the beach with her husband when the first wave hit. They were separated and she was washed under cars, into a hotel and out again, losing her clothes in the process. By the time she was rescued, she was injured and had no idea where her husband might be, or if he even survived. In another article, the Australian told of Australian tourists who watched the tsunami from their fourth-floor hotel room and then saw a shark swimming in the hotel pool after the waves had subsided. The paper reported that at least two Australians were among the dead, and dozens more were injured.

Israel's Yediot Ahronotcarried extensive coverage of the search for missing Israelis, alongside dramatic first-person accounts from Israeli tourists who survived the tsunami. One report focused on a 24-year-old traveler who survived the terror bombings in the Egyptian resorts of the Sinai Peninsula in October and then set out for a trek through Thailand. For the past month he has been on an island in southern Thailand, and nobody has heard from him since the earthquake and tsunami. His family told the paper they have contacted a rabbi in Thailand who is looking for their son, along with dozens of other Israelis who have not made contact with their families since Sunday.

The Guardian of Britain noted that at least four Britons died in the tsunami and published the British Foreign Office's telephone hotline for information on missing citizens. In a leader, the paper noted that the earthquake—which, at 9.0 magnitude *, was the strongest to strike anywhere in the past 40 years—occurred exactly one year after the quake that claimed 30,000 lives in Bam, Iran. The paper called on the countries of the world to do a better job fulfilling their pledges to the nations on the frontlines of this tsunami than they have done with their pledges to the people of Bam. "People in Bam ruefully complained yesterday that while $1 billion of aid was promised in the wake of their quake … only $17m was ultimately paid over," the paper wrote. "There is always a difficulty for donors balancing emergency help with long-term strategic support, but a pledge is a pledge."

Correction, Dec. 28, 2004:Originally this piece stated the earthquake measured 8.9 magnitude on the Richter scale, which is a measurement geologists no longer use for most earthquakes outside of California.

Carl Schrag, formerly the editor of the Jerusalem Post, is a writer and lecturer.

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