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Tsunami: Is Europe and the United States safe?

John Simkin

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It was interesting to read over the weekend that Samith Dhamasaroj, the director-general of the Thai Meteorological Department, warned the Thai government seven years ago that there was a strong possibility of an earthquake and tidal wave in the provinces of Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi. He therefore advised against this area being developed for tourists. This was not a message that the government did not want to hear. His warnings were ignored and he was moved to another job.

Could the same thing be happening in other parts of the world? Bill McGuire is the director of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre at University College London and author of A Guide to the End of the World. McGuire has argued that people in Europe and America could experience a similar disaster in the next few years. The problem is a volcano on La Palma. History shows that the volcano erupts every 20 to 200 years. The last time it erupted was in 1971. Each eruption moves an unstable 12-mile-long slab of rock the size of the Isle of Man.

McGuire believes the next eruption will result in this rock crashing into the sea. The resulting tsunami, travelling at 500mph, would reach Britain in six hours, with waves rearing up to 33ft. The La Palma tsunami would reach North America a few hours later. McGuire forecasts waves of 165ft. along the American coast.

McGuire believes that such a disaster would destroy homes but with an early warning system in place, very few people would die. In the vast majority of cases, coastal communities would just need to move a kilometre or so inland or to climb 20-30m above sea level. However, the world community has so far refused to introduce such a system. McGuire, like Samith Dhamasaroj, is described as a scare monger and governments have found it easy to find other “experts” to say it will not happen here.

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There is an interesting German novel about this volcano and the extremly instable geological structure close to La Plama which shows what such a tsunami could to to Europe and North America. The novel is based on thorough scientific research; its German title is "Der Schwarm". I do not know if it has been translated into English already but I know that an American film studio has got hold of the option to turn the book into a film. The author's name is: Frank Schaetzing

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