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The eye in the sky
December 30, 2004 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Before, during and after. DigitalGlobe's QuickBird satellite imaged the coast of Sri Lanka at precisely the time the tidal wave hit the beaches. It was pure coincidence.
posted by OpinioNate (56 comments total)

 
Those are amazing, in that stomach-churning way.
posted by odinsdream at 10:18 AM on December 30, 2004


Wow.
posted by chundo at 10:19 AM on December 30, 2004


Fascinating and disturbing. Never seen anything quite like it in my life. Thanks, OpinioNate. Are there any more out there like this? If so, please link to them.
posted by baphomet at 10:22 AM on December 30, 2004


wow
posted by daHIFI at 10:24 AM on December 30, 2004


Why is the shot of the actual wave taken at a different scale? I can't find any points of reference to figure out what I'm looking at.
posted by designbot at 10:25 AM on December 30, 2004


Incredible coincidence.
My eyes still can't believe what they've seen, although I do wish that the tsunami shot was lined up with the before and after pictures.

[on preview, what designbot said]
posted by nuala at 10:28 AM on December 30, 2004


I think the order is wrong on the images - I think the shot linked as "after" is actually the water receding right before the waves hit (you can see that the shoreline is still flood-free) and the "during" shot is really right after the waves hit.

Regardless, they are amazing images.
posted by annathea at 10:28 AM on December 30, 2004


There are more images listed here. Check out the link that says "Tsunami Coverage".
posted by OpinioNate at 10:29 AM on December 30, 2004


Sorry, that's "Tsunami Gallery". I don't know if the 'after' image really is after the wave hit, but that's how DigitalGlobe calls it.
posted by OpinioNate at 10:30 AM on December 30, 2004


designbot, it appears it was; the before and after pictures are of the same place (the road network makes it pretty simple to match the pictures up).

It's strange, but apart from the deep channels in the beach in the after picture, and the prevalence of an awful lot of mud in the roads near the beach, it doesn't look that bad. Which is weird, given the deathtoll.

In response to OpinoNate, I think the order is right, based on the channels in the beach; those don't just happen. Something had to wash away from the land with enough quantity and force to cause that erosion.
posted by lowlife at 10:31 AM on December 30, 2004


lowlife - seawater recedes quickly and powerfully right before (as long as ten minutes, actually) a tsunami hits. Not your typical wave receding, but the sea actually pulls back several hundred feet. That could cause the erosion seen in the image.
posted by annathea at 10:38 AM on December 30, 2004


It was pure coincidence.

Given that the earthquake was detected almost immediately and the wave was tracked for its entire course by weather satelites (there was, at least in the case of Sri Lanka, several hours warning, just no way to get that warning to where it was needed) I'm inclined to say suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuure...
posted by ChasFile at 10:38 AM on December 30, 2004


From the same site:
Banda Aceh before and after
posted by grateful at 10:43 AM on December 30, 2004


What ChasFile said. These people had several hours to walk five blocks to safety. What were the people who monitor these events doing--reading The Pet Goat?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:45 AM on December 30, 2004


I have a friend in the Air Force who mans the control boards for some of their reconnaissance satellites. After the disaster the crew he was with got permission to check the area out with non-critical birds, one of which was thermal. He told me they all got quiet as the feed for the Sumatran area (He wouldn't give more specifics) got colder and colder with each pass till there was nothing but normal albedo reflection.
posted by Vaska at 10:47 AM on December 30, 2004


ChasFile & Weapons-Grade Pandemonium : The BBC has been quite good in tracking down the reasons for the lack of warning given. First off the people in Aceh and close districts were doomed, having less then thirty minutes at best to get clear. Second, none of the countries involved have disaster alert systems, something we take for granted. Apparently the team at NOAA sent an email alert to their counter-parts in India, but on an early Sunday morning no-one was there. Third, some places simply could not be warned like some of the Indonesian islands which have no phone system whatsoever.

The lack of a system to warn people is the real problem though. Think of the time involved. Call from NOAA to State Department: 5-10 minutes. State Department looks for proper number to call for Sri Lanka: 10 minutes. Call from State Department to Sri Lankan government: 15-20 minutes (Assuming the person answering speaks English or they have someone who speaks Indian). Call from Sri Lankan government official to military and/or emergency services: 20-30 minutes. Time for those services to reach the affected areas: Anywhere from 10 minutes if they're local to several hours. You simply can't call all the hotels and tell them to get people off the beach, or all the home residents and do the same, you need an Emergency Broadcast System, which they don't have, or helicopters with loud speakers, which never had a chance to get there in time, assuming they even had any. In short: having no disaster infrastructure means that reaction times are monumentally slow, and people pay with their lives.
posted by Vaska at 10:58 AM on December 30, 2004


RE: The different scale of the pics...

Look at the file names of the photos. The "Before" shot was taken January 1, 2004. The "During" and "After" were taken on December 26.

It's amazing how far inland the water is on the "during" shot.
posted by evoo at 11:02 AM on December 30, 2004


Wow:

Aceh Before

Aceh After
posted by Swifty at 11:07 AM on December 30, 2004


Coincidence is amazing. Astonishing pics, thanks OpinioNate.
posted by fenriq at 11:08 AM on December 30, 2004


Swifty, very wow.
posted by fenriq at 11:10 AM on December 30, 2004


Also this:

PDF from Digital Globe showing comparison pictures
posted by Swifty at 11:11 AM on December 30, 2004


Technology could bypass infrastructure in these countries. How much would it cost to mass produce a solar-powered warning device the size of a smoke alarm, activated by a satellite or cell phone signal, that would only go off for a tsunami warning, with test signals once a month? People would do the rest. A few of these in each village would have saved tens of thousands of lives.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:19 AM on December 30, 2004


anathea: I think the order is wrong on the images

No. The "after" photo shows several giveaways that this was after the event:
  • (1) significant shoreline is missing entirely as compared to the "before"
  • (2) many fresh gulleys carved out by retreating seawater
  • (3) the ocean area is now discolored with ground runoff (assuming there would normally be similar water quality as on 2004.01.01)

posted by bafflegab at 11:24 AM on December 30, 2004


Full disclosure: My father actually works for DigitalGlobe; he sent me the links. He said they will be adding more images around 4 o'clock mountain time so check back then.
posted by OpinioNate at 11:25 AM on December 30, 2004


Errr, this is a bad FPP. Hardly best of the web.

Yea. That's it.

saved tens of thousands of lives.

Who says 'they' want to save lives?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:25 AM on December 30, 2004


Errr, this is a bad FPP. Hardly best of the web.

Are you being facetious or, simply, an ignorant asshole?
Stunning photos Opinio - thanks.
posted by rotifer at 11:43 AM on December 30, 2004


Great links.
posted by digaman at 11:48 AM on December 30, 2004


What ChasFile said. These people had several hours to walk five blocks to safety. What were the people who monitor these events doing--reading The Pet Goat?

From News.com.au: "Wave warning fell on deaf ears: A tsunami warning that could have saved thousands of lives was issued but not acted upon more than an hour before giant waves hit Sri Lanka and southern India....experts in Honolulu admitted they had forecast the disaster within 15 minutes of Sunday's earthquake off the coast of Sumatra but did not know who to pass the information to."


From Khaleej Times: "Pressure built for an Indian Ocean tsunami-warning centre on Tuesday after frustrated scientists said they knew killer waves were speeding towards coastlines across Asia but was powerless to raise the alarm. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and the International Tsunami Information Centre, both in Hawaii, detected the December 26 earthquake off Indonesia that generated the Indian Ocean tsunamis. But the centres were set up to provide alerts to Pacific nations and frantic scientists had no contacts in the countries in the path of the giant waves which experts said could rush across oceans at up to 800 kilometres (496 miles) an hour. As a result, they lost the chance to alert some of the worst hit areas hours before the tsunamis hit..."
posted by ericb at 11:49 AM on December 30, 2004




There is an interesting CBC article on how people are using the internet to try and find lost friends and family, which leads you to Wave of Destruction with lots of video and picture images.
posted by Salmonberry at 12:26 PM on December 30, 2004


Weapons Grade Pandemonium : Nice idea, but it has several flaws. Let's assume it's satellite activated because wireless coverage in most areas is non-existent due to many issues, especially the lack of any power network. How is the device going to alert the people? Siren? That'll take a lot of energy, so that means big batteries for the solar panel to charge. Add in the horn and you've got a 2000 US dollar device that needs to have the batteries checked every year by someone, and it still won't save the fisherman tens of miles from the shore. Indonesia has thousands of far-flung islands stocked with extremely poor or subsistence level communities that there current government can't even afford to wire for electricity or good drinking water, let alone a disaster alert system of any kind. (Especially when they're busy funding militia groups to massacre people in Aceh)

Rough Ashlar - Is this the mysterious 'They' that also engineered the 9/11 attacks and New Coke? Cause if they're able to have reactions ready for natural disasters that's impressive. Seriously though, that's unkind. Yes there are already nasty rumors about the Tamil controlled parts of Sri Lanka getting stiffed by the official government, but that's hardly surprising considering the two are basically at war. Everywhere else people are trying to help each other. Well, except for China and Russia who are sending oh-so-helpful 'advisors'.
posted by Vaska at 12:35 PM on December 30, 2004


Vaska - one quick note. The fisherman out at sea probably aren't going to see very much. Tsunamis are only about a meter high in open ocean. It's only when they get in more shallow water do they "run up" and start getting dangerous. Nitpicky, I know, but it makes WGP's engineering a little easier.
posted by cr_joe at 2:22 PM on December 30, 2004


Vaska: I visualize something simpler, much like a smoke alarm, to be kept in responsible hands--the post office, police station, etc. Once those people were notified, the word would spread quickly, and secondary warning horns could be sounded, with flags for the fishermen. The villagers could organize their own system, but this device would be the trigger. This idea may not have worked well prior to this disaster, but now everyone will take tsunamis very seriously. Any MeFi geeks want to join me to get this puppy made?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:43 PM on December 30, 2004


Don't know if anyone's already seen this pic, but it might help those to better conceive the high casualty count. [NSFW]
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:19 PM on December 30, 2004


Civil_Disobedient:

That was the best photo I've seen of this entire disaster. The numbers make me go "wow", the photos and video of the wave hitting make me go "holy crap", but that picture just makes me go "........"

Maybe it's my lack of imagination, but that's the first thing that's actually brought home the horribleness of this thing.
posted by Bugbread at 3:43 PM on December 30, 2004


Same here. As I was scrolling down the image, I was thinking, "Hey, that looks like a body over there. Oh, wow, another body. Oh, look another... Oh... Shit." And like one of those "Magic Eye" posters, suddenly I saw all of them at once.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:03 PM on December 30, 2004


Ditto, C_D. The pic doesn't fit in my entire window either, so the top sliver reminded me of some of the bad FL hurricane damage. Then you scroll down.

........
posted by Sangre Azul at 4:06 PM on December 30, 2004


Dear god. It looks like there are a few people in that photo who are still alive. I don't know what would be worse, dying or living through that kind of trauma.
posted by damn yankee at 5:32 PM on December 30, 2004


Damn yankee: The bodies are all very black and bloated (notice how fat everyone looks, and how tight their clothes are). I'm almost positive that the picture is from long, long after the tsunami.
posted by Bugbread at 5:35 PM on December 30, 2004


Some googling indicates that blackening happens about 24 hours after death, and bloating on the third day after death, but is accelerated if the body is in water.

My guess regarding the people you say still look alive are that they are the people with raised arms or legs. That's probably because they were floating face down when rigor mortis started, and then were rotated by the tide/flotsam/whathaveyou to a face up position.
posted by Bugbread at 5:51 PM on December 30, 2004


Rough Ashlar - Is this the mysterious 'They' that also engineered the 9/11 attacks and New Coke?

Nothing 'mysterious' about the 'they'. They follow the golden rule - he who has the gold makes the rules. Human suffering is profitable, don't ya know?

If it is not profitable, then no action is taken.

facetious

*clap* *clap*
posted by rough ashlar at 6:14 PM on December 30, 2004


Current events have only made me sick twice.

When watching the events of 9/11 happen live on TV, the first tower collapsed and I realized all those poor souls inside were doomed. As it came tumbling down, my heart hit my stomach and I almost puked.

Seeing footage and photos that show the magnitude of this disaster kills me. Wow. Mother Nature is truly powerful.

As I said on another thread, my wife is Indonesian. Thankfully her family lives far away from Aceh and is safe. I was in Jakarta when the Mariott bombing occurred and they show far more gruesome images than we're used to seeing here. Much like the pic Civil_Disobedience posted, you're disgusted by what you see but gain a new appreciation for the seriousness of the matter.

What my in-laws describe to me is even worse. Parents holding the hands of their children and fruitlessly running from the wave. The wave hits and families are denied even the dignity of dying together. What a sad, sad situation. At least in Aceh, there was not much that could have been done, but the other nations should have had several hours of warning.

In Aceh alone estimates say 1 in 4 people in the province has died - and that's before the wounded die and before disease sets in amongst the survivors.

One of our good friends is from Aceh. He is missing several family members, including his brothers, nephews and children from his first marriage. I hope it's just because communications are down. For now I can't even look him in the eye. I can't imagine what he's going through.
posted by b_thinky at 6:34 PM on December 30, 2004


C_D the stark reality of that photo is both compelling and mind-numbingly dismal. However, I find the video and photos of people fighting for their lives (when obviously doomed) much harder to look at.

On another note, being an Okie in the middle of Tornado Alley I can't comprehend the absence of at least some sort of warning system. I don't buy the argument that power for sirens is unavailable-especially in the resort areas. In the poorest or most remote areas use a fucking bell, a hand-crank air raid siren, or use a diesel generator. In areas without phone service SAT phones would work to alert those responsible for siren activation.

None of this will ever happen because (as evidenced time and time again) no one seems to give a shit about poor, brown people until it's too late.

Fuck 2004.
posted by HyperBlue at 8:57 PM on December 30, 2004


no one seems to give a shit about poor, brown people until it's too late.

And even then, some don't. Tonight, my TiVo was watching TBS. I walked in the room during a commercial break, and they were broadcasting some "Hollywood Minute" type of thing. The cheery voice-over said, and I'm quoting exactly, "A tidal wave of stars flooded Hollywood ..." to celebrate some movie premiere.

I couldn't believe my ears. TiVo can't watch TBS anymore.
posted by ewagoner at 9:16 PM on December 30, 2004


HyperBlue: I think it has less to do with poor, brown people than it has to do with this being a not even once in a century occurance. While tornados occur several times per year in your area, a 9.0 earthquake and tidal wave have not happened in that region in anyone's lifetime.

Having visited SE Asia many times, I can tell you first hand that these folks are notoriously poor planners. We westerners take the attitude of "better safe than sorry" to the extreme. They're at the other end. The way they drive, produce, pollute, and construct is all about short term, oftentimes in sacrifice of the long term.
posted by b_thinky at 9:59 PM on December 30, 2004


Haunting tsunami photos by Mahesh Purkait in Thailand.
posted by WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot at 10:08 PM on December 30, 2004


Hey OpinioNate, I just saw some DigitalGlobe images on my local news broadcast, congrats to your father and his company :)
posted by baphomet at 11:10 PM on December 30, 2004


C_D you shocked me and frightened me. I had never thought it would look like this. And I have seen my fair share of flicks about wars and disasters. And I lived through 9/11 down-friggin-town.

Question: (greek) TV over satellite is reporting that there are still hundreds of foreign tourists who decided to stay put and continue their vacation on the area. This sounds really... really sick. Of course there are a lot of tourists who are helping out, but others apparently choose to party in nightclubs a few hundred meters away from where volunteers pick bodies from the rumble.
Anyone heard this also?
posted by carmina at 11:41 PM on December 30, 2004


I wrote:
there was, at least in the case of Sri Lanka, several hours warning, just no way to get that warning to where it was needed

Vaska writes in (apparent) rebuttal:

First off the people in Aceh and close districts were doomed, having less then thirty minutes at best to get clear.

I wrote:
there was, at least in the case of Sri Lanka, several hours warning, just no way to get that warning to where it was needed

Vaska writes in (apparent) rebuttal:
The lack of a system to warn people is the real problem though. Think of the time involved. Call from NOAA to State Department... [blah blah blah... ] having no disaster infrastructure means that reaction times are monumentally slow, and people pay with their lives.

Wow, Vlaska, I guess I stand corrected for saying in one sentence what you managed to say in, what, 20?
posted by ChasFile at 1:19 AM on December 31, 2004


"...and it still won't save the fisherman tens of miles from the shore."

Interestingly people out on boats 10 miles off shore wouldn't need saving as the wave hasn't crested yet, it would just be a big bulge they would ride over. It isn't until it gets up to the coast that it becomes a "wall of water"
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 3:10 AM on December 31, 2004


Carmina: I read somewhere that people are being advised to continue their tourist plans to the area to help with direct financial support. I suppose the idea is that the tourism industry totally supports the livelihood of the local people?
For example.
posted by Duug at 3:28 AM on December 31, 2004


Carmina: I read somewhere that people are being advised to continue their tourist plans to the area to help with direct financial support. I suppose the idea is that the tourism industry totally supports the livelihood of the local people?
For example.


Duug, I was just going to post saying almost the same thing.

I have been to Rai Ley beach in southwestern Thailand several times, and since it is the only place I have been to which would have been affected by the tsunami, I was particularly interested in how it fared. I suppose I was trying to find a personal connection to bring the tragedy home; the scale and horror of the whole thing has sort of numbed me.

In any case it appears that Rai Ley has gotten off pretty lightly, aside from about a dozen of the much-beloved boatmen who were unfortunate enough to be out in their longtails when the wave hit. Things seem to be getting back to normal, or as normal as could be expected, and as Duug said they really don't want people to cancel their trips; the entire economy hinges on tourist money:

We have all seem the grisly pictures in the media. Thankfully they are nothing to do with Railay, Ao Nang and indeed most of Thailand. If you have booked a holiday in Railay, the best thing you can do is to turn up and enjoy yourselves. The locals are panicking that everyone is going to cancel, and that they will lose their businesses as a result. They would like it known that they are all open as usual, and are looking forward to seeing old friends, and making new ones.

I think it's a case of context; in areas where there is clearly still an ongoing relief and cleanup effort, of course it would be inappropriate and disrespectable to engage in blatant leisure activities. But knowing that an area has been relatively spared, and knowing that they are depending on your money and actively want you to come visit, I don't think there's much harm in still holidaying there.
posted by LondonYank at 4:23 AM on December 31, 2004


How Scientists and Victims Watched Helplessly [New York Times, December 31, 2004]

BTW - NYT article has a multimedia/slide show "India's Aceh Region: Before and After" - based on the DigitalGlobe images (located in "A Disaster Unflods" box) in the right-hand column.
posted by ericb at 7:43 AM on December 31, 2004




Also, the Times online ran either the pic C_D linked to or one taken by the same shooter in the same place at the same time briefly as the front page graphic last night. It was interesting how seeing the whole image at once lessened the impact.

I showed my wife the image when I saw it at themaxx.com last night, and she has since said the same thing that others have - that it clarified the scope of the disaster for her.
posted by mwhybark at 11:19 AM on December 31, 2004


"Technology Alone Can’t Save Us -
There’s a tendency to believe that a high-tech warning system could have saved many of the tsunami victims. It certainly would have helped, but what’s also needed is some good old-fashioned public education." [Newsweek, December 30, 2004]
posted by ericb at 3:05 PM on December 31, 2004


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