The Friday night slot on the National Geographic Channelshowing documentaries on tsunamis and other natural disasterswas a favorite of Abdul Razzak's. And when the December 26 tsunami struck his home island in the Indian Ocean, those TV programs would help him save some 1,500 of his neighbors.
It was the morning after a night of Christmas revelry. There were no ships scheduled to come toward remote Tarasa Dwip island, home to 3,500 people. Razzak, an employee of India's Port Management Board, was posted on the Tarasa Dwip port observation tower.
"Suddenly the observation tower was shaking. I and two of my colleagues woke up and we ran down,'' he said. "Then I remembered what I used to see on National Geographic last year, every Friday, 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.''
Tsunamis can be caused by three reasons, Razzak recalled: an undersea earthquake, a volcano erupting within the sea, or a massive boulder plunging into the water.
"I immediately told my colleagues to take my motorcycle and rush to as many villages as they could and tell them to evacuate immediately,'' Razzak said.
Razzak himself ran past the jetties and the villages, screaming, "Go back! Go to the hills! The water is coming!''
In five villages men, women, and children scrambled up hills, some two miles (three kilometers) away. They panted and screamed, holding hands and hugging their children close as they ran. Many fell and hurt themselves.
But they all obeyed Razzak.
Within minutes the first big wave came and caused some damage. Less than ten minutes later the second wave crashed and then a third that was even higher, some twenty feet (six meters).
The five villages were demolished as their 1,500-odd residents watched from a hill. Only three people diedtwo women and a baby girl.
No help would reach the island for five days. Villagers laid out wet rice from a government warehouse on the hilltop to dry. That, and coconuts, was their lunch and dinner until they were evacuated to safety on other islands in several trips this week.
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