Tuesday, January 04, 2005

In case of tsunami, use elephant

I think I'm perhaps the only person in the whole of the blogosphere not to post extensively about the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. The reason is simple: the magnitude of the catastrophe is simply too overwhelming. I don't believe I can add much to the discussion than has already been said more eloquently elsewhere by people more informed than I. And perhaps just as significant is the fact that I have an aversion to disaster. Maybe that comes from covering smaller-scale ugliness from my reporter days--whenever something like this happens that doesn't directly affect me, I tend to actively avoid news stories for a few days. I suppose that allows the initial emotional impact to subside somewhat, and also filters out the confusion and wild rumors that inevitably arise.

But this story is one that only recently surfaced among the flotsam of the media frenzy, and is quite fascinating as far as unexpected heroism goes. Unexpected in the sense that Thai elephants saved a number of tourists from the onrushing tsunami:
KHAO LAK, Thailand - Agitated elephants felt the tsunami coming, and their sensitivity saved about a dozen foreign tourists from the fate of thousands killed by the giant waves...

Those with tourists aboard headed for the jungle-clad hill behind the resort beach where at least 3,800 people, more than half of them foreigners, would soon be killed. The elephants that were not working broke their hefty chains.

"Then we saw the big wave coming and we started running," Wit said.

Around a dozen tourists were also running towards the hill from the Khao Lak Merlin Resort, one of a line of hotels strung along the 10 km (6-mile) beach especially popular with Scandinavians and Germans. "The mahouts managed to turn the elephants to lift the tourists onto their backs," Kulada said.

She used her hands to describe how the huge beasts used their trunks to pluck the foreigners from the ground and deposit them on their backs. The elephants charged up the hill through the jungle, then stopped.

I know elephants are sensitive to subsonic vibrations, and communicate over long distances at frequencies too low for humans to hear. But wow. Reacting to the original earthquake, then anticipating the wave surge as well is amazing. Saving the tourists wasn't a bad trick, either.

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