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How to Survive a Tsunami

Four Parts:

A tsunami is a series of destructive and very dangerous waves that result from earthquake activity or some other type of underwater disturbance. In recent years, tsunamis have caused an incredible amount of damage. In order to survive a tsunami, you must be prepared, vigilant, and calm. This article sets out steps that can help you to survive a tsunami, provided you learn and act upon these steps in advance.


Preparing in Advance

  1. Learn about the potential for danger in advance.It is important to consider whether or not you live somewhere that could potentially face a tsunami. It is likely that you are at some risk if:
    • Your home, school, or workplace is in a coastal region, near the sea.
    • The elevation of your home, school or workplace is at sea level or fairly low and on flat or only slightly undulating land. If you don't know the elevation level of your home, school or workplace, find out. Some local authorities use elevation as a warning indicator.
    • There are warning signs indicating that your area is prone to tsunamis.
    • Your local authorities have issued information about the potential for tsunamis.
    • Natural sea barriers such as levees of dunes have been removed for development.
  2. Be aware if tsunamis have struck your coastal region in the past.Do some library research or ask at the local government office. FEMA has a website enabling online flood risk searches.
    • Most tsunamis happen in what's called the "ring of fire," an area in the Pacific ocean known for its geologic activity.Chile, the western United States, Japan, and the Philippines are especially vulnerable.
  3. Prepare essential materials in an easy-to-obtain location.If a tsunami (or another natural disaster) hits, chances are you'll need a few survival items, and you'll need them fast. It can be helpful to have both a safety and survival pack already assembled:
    • Make a safety pack.Food, water, and a first aid kit are among the basics required. Keep the safety pack somewhere obvious, well-known to everyone in the building and easy to grab in an emergency. It can also help to leave a raincoat or other coat for each person near the safety pack.
    • Make a personal survival packfor each person in the family, and a family survival pack with common items for everyone. Include a supply of necessary medications for each member of the family. Don't forget survival items for your pets.
  4. Develop an evacuation plan.An evacuation plan must be prepared in advance to be of use. In developing one, consider your family, your workplace, your school, and your wider community. If necessary, begin to develop a community-wide evacuation plan if nothing is being done in your community. Take the initiative to start developing the plan, and involve local authorities and other residents. Lack of evacuation plans and local warning systems put you, your family and your entire community at increased risk for injury or death during and after a tsunami. These are the things that should be part of a successful evacuation plan:
    • Discuss with family, and colleagues the various options for evacuation. Know, for example, where you might reunite with your loved ones should a tsunami hit.
    • Conduct practice drills to ensure that all members of the community are clear about what they need to do and where they need to go during a safety evacuation.
    • Include a plan that can ensure a head count of every single member of the community; ensure that assistance for disabled or ill persons can be provided.
    • Ensure that warning and evacuation signals are understood by the community in advance — distribute pamphlets or give lectures to ensure that everybody is aware. Read Understand Tsunami Notification Terms.
    • Remember to provide multiple safety routes owing to the possibility of an earthquake destroying roads and other infrastructure, preventing exit using some routes.
    • Consider what types ofsheltered areasmight exist in the evacuation zones; do such shelters need to be built in advance?

Recognizing the Telltale Tsunami Signs

  1. Look out for a rapid rise and fall in coastal waters.If the sea suddenly recedes (draws back), leaving bare sand, this is a major warning sign that there is about to be a sudden surge of water inland.
  2. Notice any odd behavior changes in animals.Watch for animals leaving the area or behaving abnormally, such as trying to seek human shelter or grouping together in ways they would not normally do.

Evacuating After a Tsunami Hits

  1. Abandon belongings.If a tsunami hits,save lives, not possessions. Trying to retrieve things and belongings may hamper your escape by causing you to lose valuable time. Grab your safety pack, something to keep you warm, your family and leave immediately. Tsunami survivors act quickly, and usually, don't bother with trying to save possessions.
  2. Move inland, and to high ground.The first thing you should try to do, if possible, is to moveawayfrom the coast, lagoons or other bodies of water, towards higher ground and even into hills or mountains. Move until you are either 2 miles (3,200 m) inland or 100 feet (30 m) above sea level.
    • Expect roads to be totally wiped out by a tsunami.If you're planning on using roads to get where you need to go, think again. In a full-blown tsunami, many roads will be wiped out, either by the seismic activity of the earthquake or by the tsunami itself. Have a good sense of the general direction you want to be heading in, and consider keeping a compass in your survival pack.
  3. Climb high.If you cannot head inland because you are trapped, head up. Although not ideal because the structure itself could collapse, if this is your only option, choose a high, sturdy and solid building and climb up it. Go as high as you possibly can, even onto the roof.
  4. Climb a sturdy tree.As a very last resort, if you find yourself trapped and unable to move inland or climb a high building, find a strong and tall tree and climb up it as high as you can. There is a risk of trees being dragged under by the tsunami, however, so this really is a measure to be usedonlyif all other alternatives are impossible. The stronger the tree, the higher it stands, and the sturdier its branches for resting on (you may be there for hours), the better your chances are of surviving.
  5. React quickly if you are caught up in the water.If you did not manage to evacuate but find yourself caught up in the tsunami for one reason or another, there are things that you can do to try to survive:
    • Grab onto something that floats.Use a floating object as a raft to keep yourself above the water. Items that float such as tree trunks, doors, fishing equipment etc. may be in the water with you.

Surviving the Aftermath of a Tsunami

  1. Brace for aftershocks and additional waves.A tsunami comes in waves. There may be many, many waves lasting for hours and the next wave may be even larger than the last.
  2. Try to get reliable information.Listen to the radio for updates on what is happening. Do not trust word of mouth. It is better to wait than to return too early and be caught by more incoming waves.
  3. Wait for local authorities to issue an "All Clear."Only then you should return to your home. Find out in advance how local authorities propose to announce such a notice. Remember that roads may be extremely damaged by the tsunami waves and you may have to take alternative routes.A good pre-planned emergency plan should account for this possibility and provide alternative routes and gathering places.
  4. Know that survival continuesafterthe tsunami has passed.Once the tsunami has subsided, there will be debris, destroyed buildings and broken infrastructure. There may also be dead bodies. Fresh water supplies will be destroyed or disrupted. Food supplies will most likely be unavailable. The potential for disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, starvation, and injuries will make the post-tsunami period nearly as perilous as the tsunami itself. An emergency plan should also consider the aftermath and what you'll need to do to protect yourself, your family and your community.
  5. Rally the community behind a rehabilitation plan.If your local authorities have not put action plans into place, suggest that they do so or form a community action group to consider a post-tsunami plan. Things that can help survival post tsunami include:
    • Establishing an advance stash of fresh water. Whether bottled water or filtered water, an emergency water supply should be in place in your community.
    • Opening up undamaged homes and buildings to others. Help those in distress and provide them with shelter.
    • Ensuring that there are power generators to enable cooking, maintenance of hygiene and return of basic health and transportation services.
    • Running emergency shelters and food distribution.
    • Getting health care into action immediately.
    • Quelling fires and gas ruptures.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    What should I do after a tsunami?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Head to the closest Immediate Relief Camp. There, you can find information and get basic supplies, such as food and water. If you are missing any family members, you might be able to find them there too, or get help finding them.
  • Question
    What do I do if I get injured?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If you have a first aid kit, use it. If not, do not panic; use a clean cloth and some fresh water to bandage it. After the tsunami, head to a hospital or relief center where you can get medical attention.
  • Question
    How can I save my family and pets if a tsunami happens?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Have food and an emergency plan. Grab a first aid kit and your family and pets, and go to the highest place you can reach as soon as possible.
  • Question
    What should I do if there is a flood after the tsunami?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If there is a flood after, it will be nearly or fully impossible to return home or to search for salvageable belongings. Return to a safer place you can stay, since you won't be able to go back home.
  • Question
    How often do tsunamis happen?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average of tsunamis striking anywhere in the world is two times (twice) a year. Of course, you need to realize that most tsunamis are very small and are barely noticeable, so don't assume they're all devastating.
  • Question
    Can I just stay in my apartment if a tsunami where to happen?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Unless your apartment is really high up and the structure is incredibly strong, you'd best evacuate.
  • Question
    Is there any chance for a child to survive a tsunami?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, it's possible. Especially if they were properly educated and instructed on what to do in case they think a tsunami is coming.
  • Question
    What kind of shelter would you need and how could you quickly find a shelter?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Go as high as you possibly can. Your first concern is height, you can worry about sheltering later. Run up a hill or go up a tall, strong building.
  • Question
    How can I survive a tsunami if I don't know how to swim?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You could evacuate to higher ground, away from the water. If there is no time, you can climb something tall and sturdy, like a large tree, to keep yourself out of the water while you wait for rescue.
  • Question
    What should I do with my pets when a tsunami strikes?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Evacuate with the pets or seek higher ground as soon as possible.
Unanswered Questions
  • What will be there in an emergency kit? How to get ready with it?
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Quick Summary

To survive a tsunami, prepare a survival pack in advance containing food, water, and a first aid kit. When you see the sea receding quickly or feel an earthquake, grab your safety pack and head away from the coast until you're at least 2 miles inland. Alternatively, aim for higher ground that's at least 100 feet above sea level. If you're caught in the water, use a tree trunk as a flotation device. However, if you managed to escape in time, wait until an official all clear rather than returning too early so you don't get caught in further waves.

Did this summary help you?
  • Evacuate your children, too. Strive to stay together. Give clear and simple instructions, and make sure they know where to gather if you become separated.
  • As you move very quickly, away from the sea, warn as many people as possible whilst doing so. Shout clearly and loudly "Tsunami! Head for high ground!" without stopping your own evacuation. Once the tide suddenly recedes, it is likely that you have only a couple of minutes at best before the tsunami arrives.
  • If a distant tsunami is detected, major cities are alerted a few hours or less before the tsunami hits. Heed these warnings.
  • The loud roaring of the ocean, tide retreating, and you and a strong earthquake are three signs of a tsunami. If you see any of these signs, go inland or to higher ground.
  • If you know a tsunami is coming tell your family to meet in a safe place just in case you and your family get separated. Each of you could have a whistle so you can hear each other if separated.
  • The first time you hear of a tsunami coming, grab your emergency kits and drive inland to a city/town where and stay there until the "all clear" is announced by authorities.
  • Find a house inland or elevated to stay in before the tsunami starts.
  • Teach children to recognize the signs of an impending tsunami. Ten-year-old Tilly Smith saved her family and other lives in the 2004 tsunami because she listened in geography class.


  • If you are at the beach and see the tide receding far out strangely and completely, evacuate immediately; this is not an invitation to investigate but one torunin the opposite direction.
  • Don't wait for warnings. If you think a tsunami is coming evacuate immediately.
  • The main cause of death during a tsunami is drowning. The second major cause is being battered by debris.
  • Always listen to instructions and advice from the police when a tsunami is coming. Usually, instructions from the authorities are put on the radio, so keep a lookout for such.

Things You'll Need

  • Clean water
  • 1 First Aid kit - per family or group
  • Dry, warm clothing and a waterproof coat if possible or ponchos - per person
  • Medicines needed by any person on a regular basis such as an asthma inhaler or heart medication.
  • Flashlight and batteries - per family or group
  • Emergency food and water supplies
  • Clothes - two pairs - per person
  • Pair of powerful magnets - per family or group
  • Battery or crank-operated radio - per family or group
  • Pillow (inflatable type) - per person
  • Blankets/sleeping bags
  • Utility Knife (Army Knife)
  • Emergency Money
  • Copies of important information eg. Birth certificate, Will, Identification

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations

  1. Mapping Information Platform
  2. Diana L Guerrero (Ark Animals),
  3. U.S. Geological Survey, Circular 1187, Version 1.1 (2005),
  4. U.S. Geological Survey, Circular 1187, Version 1.1 (2005),
  5. U.S. Geological Survey, Circular 1187, Version 1.1 (2005),
  6. U.S. Geological Survey, Circular 1187, Version 1.1 (2005),
  7. U.S. Geological Survey, Circular 1187, Version 1.1 (2005),
  8. U.S. Geological Survey, Circular 1187, Version 1.1 (2005),

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