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    The worst natural disaster?

    I’m glad to see, finally, a news report that mentions that this may not be the deadliest disaster to hit Asia in recent memory:

    Rescue workers pressed on into isolated villages devastated by a disaster that could yet eclipse a cyclone that struck Bangladesh in 1991, killing 138,000 people.

    I tried looking it up a few days ago, but “bangladesh ‘100,000 deaths'” produces a string of links to general infant mortality rates, so I wasn’t entirely sure my memory was serving me well. (BTW, the cyclone there is the word used for the Indian Ocean equivalent of a hurricane; it’s not like the cyclone in The Wizard of Oz.)

    It’s not surprising that people wouldn’t make the connection, of course. We can sincerely believe that all men are created equal, but that doesn’t stop us from identifying more with those whose particulars we share. And there are lots of particulars. Video cameras have become better and cheaper, and the tsunamis struck in many places where tourists (who tend to have their cameras handy when they leave their hotels) were plentiful. The sheer number of people who were able to film the waves as they hit is astonishing.

    Speaking of numbers, it may seem odd to read that there could be 1000 Swedish nationals–just Swedish nationals–killed. But it makes more sense when you consider not just people traveling directly from home but also the expats in Asia. It takes much less time (about 7 hours from Japan, Korea, or northern China) to fly to Southeast Asia than it does to fly home; costs are also low; and, if further incentive is needed, it’s wet and cold up here.

    Fortunately for surviving tourists, vacation spots tend to be easy to get in and out of–if not because they’re that way naturally, then because governments that know the value of tourist income have taken pains to furnish them with superhighways and airports. The places least accessible to transportation are where the populations of locals with the poorest infrastructure in other ways is, too. Hearteningly, those omnipresent video cameras are now being used during flyovers to assess damage and find lone survivors. The scope of the damage is horrifying, but it’s beginning to look as if it could have been a lot worse.

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