The tsunami-earthquake tragedy that hit Indonesia and 11 other countries provides poignant fodder for two important goals for the New Year:
1. If it is within our power to help, we should.
2. Living in a state that is susceptible to a variety of natural disasters, including earthquakes and tsunamis, we should be prepared for the worst before it happens.
The catastrophe that by Thursday had claimed at least 117,000 lives across 12 nations - Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Somalia, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Maldives, Tanzania, Seychelles, Bangladesh and Kenya - is beyond comprehension for most of us. The death toll as it stands is almost double the entire population of the Kenai Peninsula. Thousands more are missing; millions lack shelter, clean water, food, sanitation and medicine.
The irony of a disaster, any disaster, is that the worst tends to bring out the best in us. And even though we suspect there are lots of Alaskans who can't find most of the countries affected by Sunday's tragedy on a map that doesn't mean they don't want to lend a helping hand.
In fact, in response to requests from peninsula residents and other Alaskans, the American Red Cross of Alaska created the "Alaska to Asia Disaster Relief Fund" with the goal of raising $50,000 by Jan. 7. Alaskans' monetary gifts will be sent as a single donation through the American Red Cross International Response Fund. The agency cannot accept donations of goods or services for the crisis and has said financial donations are the best way to assist victims of the disaster. Unsolicited donations of goods arriving at disaster sites can hamper the distribution of items most needed, said the agency.
Peninsula residents wishing to help can make donations to the Alaska to Asia Disaster Relief Fund at any Wells Fargo branch or any Alaska Red Cross office. More information can be found on the Internet at www.alaska.redcross.org. The account number is 6681201676.
Locally, the Thai Lotus Relief Fund also has been established. Donations can be made at the Thai Lotus Restaurant in Kenai and the Kenai and Soldotna locations of Wash & Dry, Radio Shack and Key Bank. For more information on the Thai Lotus fund, call 283-7250.
In addition to helping the victims of this week's disaster, peninsula residents should consider how well prepared they are to handle a disaster closer to home. Sunday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake is the largest to hit the globe since the 1964 Good Friday earthquake that rocked Alaska.
It should be remembered that Alaska is the most seismically active of all 50 states. Another huge earthquake is not out of the realm of the possible. In fact, emergency management officials warn "it's not a matter of if, but when."
The West Coast could experience a calamity similar to the one unfolding half a world away, the experts say.
''People need to know it could happen,'' geologist Brian Atwater of the U.S. Geological Survey told The Associated Press.
While lack of a warning system contributed to the huge death toll in this week's disaster, scientists say there is a chance that a tsunami could hit the Pacific Northwest coast too fast for the nation's deep-sea warning system to help. There are plans to expand the system from its current six instruments to 20 sensors in the next five years, including 10 gauges for the seismically active Aleutian Islands.
This week's tragedy shows the importance of making that kind of preparation a priority.
Individuals also need to make it a personal priority to make sure their families are prepared for an emergency. The better prepared individuals, families and businesses are to deal with worst-case scenarios, the better the community will weather any disaster. Plus, personal preparation minimizes harm to people and property while freeing disaster-response workers to concentrate their efforts where they are most needed.
The time invested in preparing a family emergency kit will pay big dividends if it's ever needed. After a disaster strikes it's too late to put those supplies together.
Instead of merely wringing one's hands over the terrible news coming out of Asia this week, there is something each of us can do: Give whatever we can to disaster-relief efforts and make sure our homes and businesses are prepared for any number of the natural disasters that can strike the peninsula.
As we prepare to welcome a new year, let's prepare for the worst while expecting the best.
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