By Kiana Prinsloo

Every year, on the 5th of November, nations all over the world take part in a movement known as World Tsunami Awareness Day to educate the world on everything tsunami!

Where It All Started

There is a Japanese story named “Inamura-no-hi”, a term meaning “burning of the rice sheaves”. In this story, there lived a farmer that noticed the tide of the sea receding during an earthquake in 1854. This is a sign that a tsunami is emerging. With this knowledge, he set his harvest on fire in an attempt to warn the other villagers, who then took off to higher ground. Thereafter, the farmer built an embankment and planted trees as a guard against waves that may come in the future.

The UN General Assembly assigned the 5th of November as World Tsunami Awareness Day back in December 2015 in honour of this story.

Did you know?
The highest recorded amount of deaths caused by a tsunami in South Africa is 3 people. The highest recorded wave height in South Africa is also very minimal: only 2.9m!

The Tsunami… What Should You Know?

Tsunamis are quite rare but cause a lot of damage when they do come about. Tsunamis are also known to be the deadliest among natural disasters especially since the waves become progressively bigger and stronger with every one that rolls in. It is most common for tsunamis to take place in the Pacific Ocean and Indonesia but there are also other countries that are at high risk, including Chile, Peru, Japan, India, Italy, New Zealand, Morocco, Portugal and the West Coast of the United States.

Did you know?
The record for the tallest tsunami wave was recorded in Lituya Bay, Alaska in 1958 – 100 feet high!

Causes of Tsunamis

Earthquakes cannot always summon tsunamis. For an earthquake to bring about a tsunami, the earthquake must:

  • occur near or under the ocean;
  • be at least a 6.5 of magnitude strength on the Richter Scale;
  • crack or breach the surface of the Earth;
  • occur less than 70km under the Earth’s surface and
  • cause the seafloor to move vertically.

Other causes of tsunamis include volcanic eruptions, coastal rock falls, submarine landslides and on very little occasion, a big asteroid that has struck the ocean.

Did you know?
Tsunamis are able to travel at great speeds of 805km/h. That’s almost as fast as a jet plane!

Knowing When to Evacuate

Warning signs of a tsunami:

  • An earthquake.
  • A noticeable fall or rise in the ocean’s water level.
  • Unusually fast receding of the ocean.
  • The sea receding farther out than usual. This may expose the ocean’s floor and sealife (reefs and fish) but don’t get caught up staring at it because you have approximately five minutes to evacuate the place!
  • A wall of water.
  • The ocean producing a large “roaring” sound.

Note that a tsunami may occur even with limited warning.

Did you know?
Hawaii gets tsunamis about once every year and a drastic one every seven years!

Surviving a Tsunami

If the tsunami crept up on you without warning or you just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, here are a few tips to increase your chances of survival:

  1. It is important to know that as soon as you feel an earthquake or see the above-mentioned warning signs are occurring, you should evacuate and get to high ground IMMEDIATELY. Do not wait for an official announcement as by that time it may be too late.
  2. When you find a safe place, stay there! Waves in the series can come back as quickly as five minutes to being an hour apart and can last up to 72 hours.
  3. If caught by a tsunami wave, rather than swimming, grab onto a floatable object and hold on! Allow the current to take you.
  4. If you’re in the harbour in a boat, retreat inland, however, if you are out at sea in a boat, face the waves and head out even further.
Did you know?
The largest death toll due to a tsunami was the Indian Ocean tsunami that happened in December 2004. It was caused by an earthquake that had the energy of 23 000 atomic bombs! Eleven countries were affected by it and the final death toll was 283 000.

Being a Part of World Tsunami Awareness Day

Even if you don’t live near the coast, here are ways you can still take part in World Tsunami Awareness Day. In fact, you’ve already started by reading about tsunamis in this article. You can also imagine what you would do if a tsunami had to occur and put yourself in the shoes of the main characters in your favourite tsunami movie. Some “tsunami movies” you can watch are The Impossible (personal favourite as it’s based on a true story and deserves to be seen by everyone in the world), 2012, The Perfect Storm (I’m not crying… “I’ve just got something in my eye”) and San Andreas (you go, Dwayne Johnson!).

Sharing on social media is also a good idea since you would be spreading awareness… and that’s kind of the point. You can use these hashtags:




And lastly, use this link to find organisations you can volunteer for or donate to in order to help future disasters:


Sources used in this blog:

United Nations.  n.d.  World Tsunami Awareness Day 5 November.  United Nations.  Available at:  [Accessed 7 October 2020].

UNESCO.  2019.  World Tsunami Awareness Day.  UNESCO.  Available at:  [Accessed 7 October 2020].

National Day Calendar.  2019.  World Tsunami Awareness Day – 5 November.  National Day Calendar.  Available at:  [Accessed 7 October 2020].  n.d.  11 Facts About Tsunamis.  Available at:  [Accessed 7 October 2020].

Morris, H.  2017.  The fastest passenger plane in the sky? It might surprise you.  The Telegraph.  Available at:,tickled%202%2C193mph%20in%201976  [Accessed 7 October 2020].

National Geographic Staff.  2007.  Tsunami Facts: How the form, warning signs and safety tips.  National Geographic.  Available at:,Go%20to%20high%20ground%20immediately  [Accessed 7 October 2020].

AGI.  n.d.  What are the natural warning signs for a tsunami?  American Geosciences Institute.  Available at:,a%20train%20or%20jet%20aircraft  [Accessed 7 October 2020].

Government of Canada.  2018.  Before a Tsunami.  Government of Canada.
Available at:  [Accessed 7 October 2020].

Ready.  2020.  Tsunamis.  Ready.  Available at:  [Accessed 7 October 2020].  n.d.  Tsunamis in South Africa.  Available at:,people%20died%20in%20South%20Africa.&text=The%20biggest%20impact%20in%20terms,humans%20and%20destroyed%20vast%20areas  [Accessed 16 October 2020].


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