She smiled at me and I started crying. Because even though her lips were curved upwards, her eyes communicated sorrow and helplessness. She wasn’t the only child either, there were several hundred more children with the same look in their eyes. These kids had lost everything to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and I knew that my family’s efforts to help rebuild their lives would only be incremental.

But that’s the thing about tsunamis. They have the potential to take everything away from you.

Human relationships to tsunamis can be complicated because we have the potential to cause tsunamis while simultaneously be affected by them. I hope to examine this relationship between humans and tsunamis by studying three of the biggest tsunamis of the 20th and 21st century: the 1908 Messina, Italy tsunami, the 2004 Sumatra, Indonesia tsunami, and the 2011 Sendai, Japan tsunami. (Footnote: I chose these tsunamis based on their death tolls).

With each different tsunami I hope to examine the different ways in which humans have influenced or have been influenced by these tsunamis. With the 1908 Messina tsunami, I hope to examine how humans understand tsunamis, with the 2004 Sumatra tsunami, I hope to examine the ways in which humans were affected by the tsunami, and with the 2011 Sendai tsunami, I hope to examine the ways in which anthropogenic climate change has caused tsunamis and the consequential effects. (Footnote: This is not to say that all three of the tsunamis don’t demonstrate all of these relationships to tsunamis but the ones matched up are the most prominent). Finally, I will examine how our past relationship with tsunamis will most likely influence our future relationship with these disasters.

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