28 December 2004

Freak waves hit SA as a result of tsunami

Mini tsunamis have hit the South African east and south coasts, where waves measuring up to two metres in height have been spotted, and experts say they are a direct offshoot of the tsunamis that have devastated southern Asia.

Cape Times health writer Jo-Anne Smetherham, who is on holiday in the Stilbaai area along the Cape south coast, experienced the phenomenon while paddling up the Goukou River.

"My husband Simon and I were paddling upstream after 6pm when suddenly Simon saw a big wave behind us.

This was unusual as we were paddling upstream and the wave had developed against the tide," she said.

Smetherham said the wave had been up to a metre high. "The second one was even bigger, about a metre and a half high. People started rushing out of the water. The wave was very strong, but we were not in any danger - it was quite exciting."

The tsunami later spread to Struisbaai. A barman at Nostra restaurant on the beach, Philip van Wyk, said the tsunami had reached the area at around 7.30pm.

"It was quite amazing. The water from the sea had pulled right back, leaving a sandy beach. About five minutes later, the water suddenly rose very high, about 1.5 metres. There were a lot of people on the beach, and they all ran for cover," he said.

Another wave occurred on the Breede River on Monday morning. Witsand resident Thane Garlick said a two-foot wave emerged from the river at 7am. "This thing also happened last night, which was much bigger. This morning's wave was very strong," said Garlick.

According to other media reports, the tsunamis had reached the KwaZulu-Natal north coast, at Richards Bay, earlier on Monday. They had moved down the coast, passing through East London, Port Elizabeth, and Plettenberg Bay.

A man had drowned, and two others had to be rescued at the main beach at Blue Horizon Bay near Port Elizabeth.

Professor Frank Shillington from the University of Cape Town's oceanography department said that the unusual waves along the coast of South Africa were because of the Asian tsunamis.

"It took longer than it should have (approximately 12 hours), but the delay could have been caused by the continental shelf that exists near coastlines."

"The shelf slows down the tsunami. However, it is unlikely to move on from South Africa. It has reached the end of its energy stream," said Shillington.


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