How to Survive a Tsunami

Jeremy Bowyer
Written By Jeremy Bowyer

Jeremy Bower is a generational survivalist and expert outdoorsman.

A tsunami hitting your coast can be devastating. The damage it can cause is catastrophic. There have been multiple tsunamis across the Pacific ocean and other world areas. For example, the earthquake that struck off the Sumatran coast in 2004 resulted in a tsunami. This wave killed around 230,000 people and hit 14 countries, including Kenya, which was over 4,000 miles away from the initial quake.

Despite what cartoons or movies tell us, a tsunami isn’t just a giant, curling wave that would be a surfer’s dream. Tsunamis are much more like a flash floods. The initial water hit at the coast may only be around 10 feet deep, but as it continues to surge through the local area, it can get up to 100 feet deep very quickly and will continue to go for miles.

As the water wall moves, it rapidly wreaks destruction and havoc along its path. Every community it hits is destroyed. A building stands no chance against a 100 feet water wall. The debris and deep water are enough to kill anybody who ends up being trapped in it, which is why it’s so important to know how to survive a tsunami. Here we will go through what is tsunami protocol after a warning is issued, what to do in a tsunami, and more tsunami information to help you survive if the situation ever happens in your local area.

Preparing for a Tsunami Before it Happens

If you live near a coast or in an area where a flash flood or tsunami has hit, you should always be on high alert for another tidal wave. The first thing on our list of how to survive a tsunami is to know the warning signs. The tsunami warning signs will include the coastal waters rapidly falling and rising. You may also hear a roar from the ocean or the first rumblings of an earthquake.

Government warnings

The next thing to survive a tsunami is knowing your government’s warning system for this emergency. It could either be an earthquake warning or a tsunami warning. It’s essential to stay in the loop in these kinds of situations. Subscribe for emergency alerts and know the signs in your local area so you don’t get caught in the devastation.

Natural signs

waves hitting land

As well as the government warning of imminent danger, there are natural signs that a tsunami is coming as well. An offshore earthquake will cause a displacement on the ocean bed, pulling the water away from any coastline it is close by. Once the earth’s plates have settled back down again, all of that water rushes back toward the shores, which is what creates a giant wave in the first place. If you live near the beach and you start noticing the natural shoreline disappearing rapidly, or you see portions of the seabed you’ve never seen before this day, you should move immediately.

Evacuation Plans

When evacuation happens, you should have a route planned out. This route should not only get you away from your home but also your place of work or your children’s school. Tsunamis can happen at any hour on any day. You will need to evacuate your building and your community in a matter of minutes because of the rate that a wave and the ensuing flood travel. Know where you and your family need to be in this situation, and remember to plan a route on foot, as traveling on the roads may not be an option.

Planning your route

Once you have an evacuation plan in place as part of your how-to survive a tsunami route, rehearse it. Keep your emergency kit close at hand, either in your building or in the car, in case you’re caught out suddenly. This kit should include phone chargers, non-perishable food, essential first aid items, water, and anything else you would need to escape the water at a moment’s notice.

Prepare your family and loved ones.

The last step in your tsunami prep is to involve your loved ones. You may all need to evacuate in an emergency if you live in the same community. You will want to eventually meet back up with your family in case you get separated during the crisis, so make sure you know where you will meet and when so you can be reunited without any issues.

What to Do Once a Tsunami Warning Has Been Issued?

Body of water

Don’t Always wait for the warning.

Whether it’s an earthquake that has caused a wave in the Pacific ocean measuring 100 feet or a flood of water hitting your local community, your government will issue a warning to protect you and keep you alive. Once this warning has been issued, you need to evacuate right away. Get as far away from the coast as you possibly can. The further inland you get, the safer you will be. Higher ground like mountains and hills are also great places to await a tsunami. Remember that if you see any natural signs of a tsunami but no warning has been issued, it could still be happening. These freak waves occur so quickly that many alerts don’t get out in the public eye until the water is upon you. So if you know the natural signs of earthquakes or tsunamis and you think one is a likelihood at that moment, move and move fast.

Watch out for earthquakes.

A tsunami and earthquake are both closely connected. Because one happens after the other, you want to evacuate and, say, somewhere with little to no human-made structures. Bridges, tall buildings, power lines, walls, and massive infrastructures are all likely to fall to the ground in this situation. Being near any of these is not the best idea if you want to know how to survive a tsunami. If you live near a coastline or beach that has been hit before and another earthquake happens, you should automatically assume that a tsunami is coming. Not every quake will happen inland, but the ones you can feel can cause a tidal wave.

Try to stay informed.

Stay informed

So now that you know how to evacuate and what kind of ground you should go to in case of a tsunami, you must remember to stay informed throughout. Subscribe to the emergency services updates on what is happening regarding the rising water levels and what the path of the tsunami is. If the internet is still available, you can stay updated using social media and other online web outlets.

You should, of course, also remember to communicate with your relatives and friends. Staying in touch with them can let them know where you are and report on any dangerous situations they may come across during the evacuation process.

Stay calm and try not to panic.

The most vital thing to survive when tsunamis are on your radar is to stay calm and try not to panic. Knowing how to remain vigilant and read the signs of an earthquake or a tsunami could be the difference between life and death for you.

How to Survive When A Tsunami Hits?

Tsunami Hit

Hit the ground and hold on to something

If you are in an area where tsunamis or earthquakes are happening, the first thing you want to do is hit the ground. Cover your neck and head and hold on to something stable. In school, children are often told to stay under a desk or table, which is an ideal place to stay for a short time while the first tremors pass. Then if you’re right by the coast or on low-lying ground, get inland as quickly as possible to escape the wave and subsequent water flooding.

Get informed on progress.

Within the hour, there should be more information on the progress of the tsunami and if any more earthquake aftershocks are likely to happen. Always follow the advice of government officials. But if you read the signs of a tsunami and recognize when one is expected to hit, then evacuate yourself to have a better chance of living.

Travel as far as possible

The next thing is to know how far you need must travel away from a tsunami. The standard go-to option is to go for miles to avoid tsunamis and rising water levels from the crashing tidal wave. If you live in a tall building, the best place to go would be up as long as you think the structure is sound enough to survive the impact of the wave or earthquake. Concrete buildings are much more likely to last, so you may not even need to travel in this case.

Go up

If escape is impossible from a tsunami, try going up instead. Hills, tall buildings, and anything off the ground is a much better option than staying and being hit by the water. If the tsunami physically hits you, there are still ways you can survive. That wave will move a lot faster than you can run. Many people have survived a tsunami by holding onto larger pieces of debris floating. You could also stay by finding a rooftop of a house that is above the water level. Using larger debris protects you from being pulled into the almost vortex effect of a tsunami’s path.

Stay put

Now you’ve got somewhere safe and a place of shelter, it’s time to stay put. The first wave of a tsunami is often not the last one, with tsunamis hitting the coast continually with barrages of large amounts of water. The danger can last for hours and even days at a time, so it’s essential to listen for advice when it’s given and stay safe away from a tsunami.

Tsunami Aftermath

Tsunami Water

Once the waves have stopped coming and you are relatively safe from the water, the danger isn’t over. Tsunamis are known for their destruction, and this damage can also lead to your calling for more tsunami survival skills. Be prepared for what happens after. The amount of water that has hit land won’t just go away.

Stay clear of flooded areas.

After a tsunami, the first thing to do is to stay clear of any flooded or damaged areas. Areas with a lot of water quickly become prone to diseases that soon spread through the population. There will also be a lot of dangerous debris floating around in the tsunami water. Power lines are a huge source of danger as the electricity will still be alive, which then spreads when it touches a wet surface. Avoid these at all costs.

Find a safe place

Having a place of safety with your family and friends nearby is crucial in a tsunami. There will be official authorities reporting on the situation over the radio. This is where you can listen in on the next steps for you and where the best shelters and evacuation zones will be in the next few days.

Use social media

Texting and social media become invaluable in situations like this. A tsunami often sends phone lines down, but nothing can crash the web. You can register online with the American Red Cross after a tsunami to let people you love know you are safe and secure.

All of these guidelines are common sense for use after a tsunami has happened. Food and water safety is also paramount during this time. Try to have bottled, treated, or boiled water during this time, and throw away any perishable foods you haven’t been able to refrigerate.

A tsunami affects people far and wide, so make sure you have a survival kit in place with everything you need for survival during one of the most common natural disasters in the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

Tsunami survival

Is it possible to survive a tsunami? 

Yes, it is more than possible. If you have all of the preparation ready when the warning comes through and you listen to all of the advice given by local authorities, you can seriously increase your chances of survival during a tsunami.

How can we protect ourselves from a tsunami? 

A tsunami poses a significant risk to life, and there are steps you can take to protect yourself. If tsunamis are a common occurrence in the area you live in, you should have a survival kit ready at all times. You should also have a safe area where you can either get away from the water or can escape the area that the tsunami will be hitting.

Where should you go if there is a tsunami? 

Most local authorities will try and evacuate you if there is a tsunami, but sometimes they hit you with no warning at all. In this case, you should try and find a higher ground away from the floodwater. Stay away from unstable buildings as these are likely to fall during the impact.

Can you dive under a tsunami? 

In short, no. A tsunami goes all the way down to the sea bed, so attempting to dive underneath it would just get you caught up in the waves, causing you to drown.

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