Amazingly, videos of tsunami waves coming ashore in Japan this week showed many people driving away from the water. If you find yourself in a similar situation, how can you increase your chances of survival from nil to slim?
NOTE: Using a car to evacuate in the event of a tsunami is NOT RECOMMENDED. If the tsunami is caused by a local earthquake, roads could be cracked and unpassable, or as Newsweek notes, clogged with those trying to escape, as what happened during the Samoan tsunami in September 2009:
People who could easily have climbed to high ground in the hills behind them chose, instead, to evacuate by car. Many drowned in their cars, which were struck in exodus traffic along narrow coastal roads.
The third floor or above in a steel-structured concrete building next to the beach is a far safer place to wait out a tsunami than on the way to higher ground in your car.
But if you're already in your car, and have no other options, you'll need to think fast. You only have a few seconds to make moves that'll increase your odds. Most important, because of the sheer velocity and size of a tsunami, and other cars, debris or people that may be in your way, you likely won't be able to outrun the water, no matter how fast your car is.
1. Pre-Disaster Planning
Naturally, since you live in a tsunami zone — or you're an informed traveler visiting one — you'll already have read a survival guide and devised an evacuation route that'll get you to high ground ASAP.
2. Get Inland and Uphill
Immediately scope out the highest ground in the area, and use any thoroughfare at your disposal to get there: a side street, a field, a driveway, a goat path — anything. Your goal is to get as far inland and as far uphill as you can, as quickly as possible. Obvious, yes, but in a panic the most obvious action is often elusive.
3. Keep the Wave at Your Back
This may be difficult when coastal highways often run perpendicular to the waves' direction. You want to avoid getting T-boned by a wave and having it roll you upside down, or having the rushing water hit you head-on — the force of which can easily smash your windshield.
4. Keep the Windows Closed — At First
Normally, if your car is ever plunged into water, you want to get the windows open as soon as possible to aid in your escape. If you're swept up in a tsunami, you'll want to keep the rushing water from shotgunning debris into your car. This is only temporary, as you are still in crash mode.
5. Stay Buckled In
It only takes two feet of rushing water to sweep away a car. When the wave hits, you're going to be tossed around violently. Resist the urge to unbuckle, anticipating a quick escape. If the car rolls, you don't want to get knocked unconscious, and you DO want to preserve your directional orientation by remaining in a seated position.
6. Open the Windows
If the car starts to sink, open the windows immediately. The Mythbusters explain why.
You are now in escape mode. Follow the generally-accepted water escape rules. If you're truly prepared, you have an emergency hammer or window punch and seatbelt-cutter combo within arm's reach to break the window. If you can't kick it open (the Mythbusters couldn't), you'll have no choice but to wait until the car is entirely submerged, so the water pressure inside is the same as the outside. DON'T PANIC, or you'll use all your oxygen — and you'll need it. Hold your breath. The door will open once the car's flooded and the pressure is equalized.
8. Kick to the Surface
Get out and break for the surface with your fiercest kicks. If you are swept into fast moving water, point your feet downstream. Always go over obstacles, never try to go under.
9. Grab Onto Something that Floats
Generally accepted tsunami survival wisdom dictates that if you're caught up in the water, grab onto a floating object to use as a raft — wooden debris like tree trunks and lumber can help keep your head above water and away from loose debris to avoid being knocked unconscious as you're being swept back out to sea. You're not out of miracle-survival territory quite yet, but this man was rescued from the top of his roof, nine miles from shore.
And if you were wondering if it really were possible to survive after sustaining a tsunami hit while in your car, ask this very lucky guy.