It wasn’t enough for scum-sucking leeches to kidnap, defraud, rob, and rape survivors of last week’s tsunami. No, they have to go after victims’ families abroad. Sweden won’t release the names of hundreds of missing Swedes for fear that thieves will target their homes. Fake charities are springing up to siphon off donations. And one man inexplicably spammed worried family members “confirming” that their missing loved ones were dead.

Fortunately this isn’t the whole story. The outpouring of aid to stricken areas has been incredible. $350 million from the US government alone, not counting private donations, a staggering $500 million from Japan, with worldwide relief efforts reportedly reaching $2 billion. Doctors Without Borders has received enough donations to cover everything they expect to be able to do in the area, and are asking people to donate to their general fund instead, to help relieve other humanitarian crises. And there’s talk of both building a warning system in the Indian Ocean and improving the system in the Pacific []. Robert Cringely has even suggested harnessing the Internet as a warning system, though in this case, many of the hardest-hit areas were still missing lines of communication.

Here’s a list of charities at MeyerWeb and the original at CNN.

Apparently [giant]* tsunamis are so rare in the Indian Ocean—once every 700 years—that there is no warning system in place. When the USGS detected the quake, they scrambled to send a warning, but couldn’t reach anyone in the area:

“We tried to do what we could,” McCreery said. “We don’t have contacts in our address book for anybody in that part of the world.”

Within moments of detecting the 9-magnitude quake, McCreery and his staff were on the phone to Australia, then to U.S. Naval officials, various U.S. embassies and finally the U.S. State Department.

Even with a warning system in place, it would have caused massive devastation, but there would have been time for many—maybe even most of the people who died (at least from the immediate deluge) to reach higher ground and safety.

Reportedly efforts are underway to set up a network.

Red Cross donation info.

*Update: I was recently looking back over this post & noticed the claim at the beginning, that tsunamis only hit every 700 years in the Indian ocean, and immediately thought, “this doesn’t make any sense!” I mean, Indonesia is kind of a hotbed of tectonic activity. Krakatoa, anyone?

The CNET article is still up, but didn’t offer any clarification. The exact quote was that “such catastrophes only happen there about once every 700 years.” But some quick searching turned up some clearer information: Tsunamis of this massive size are rare in the Indian ocean, not tsunamis in general. Here’s a 2008 Nature article on geological evidence for Indian Ocean megatsunamis over the past 2500 years, with previous events in the 1300s and 800s.

While surfing around, I stumbled across a March 6 post on the rompe blog linking to Ghost Town, a truly fascinating account of a Russian(?) woman who likes to ride her motorcycle through the Chernobyl dead zone. The site is full of photographs of the wilderness, of abandoned buildings, and the few people who still live in the area. Apparently radiation levels have fallen enough that it’s safe if you stick to the roadways and avoid dust – and of course bring a radiation meter along! At one point she goes into the town nearest the power plant, and looks at a dilapidated park, looted shops (people didn’t bother with banks or jewelry stores in the evacuation, but the motorcycle shop was ransacked!), and apartments with family photos still sitting on the shelves. She likens it to Pompeii, in terms of how the whole town is frozen in time. In some ways it’s more like Roanoke, with the exception that we know where the people of Chernobyl went.

A bit later, I started on my usual rounds, and discovered that Neil Gaiman remarked on the same site just a few hours ago.