Water Myths: Disasters in Holywood Movies

By Hep Benitez

SENDAI, Japan – William Veerbeek, project coordinator and research fellow at UNESCOIHE Institute for Water Education, Delft, Netherlands, shared a water-related disasters in Holywood movies entitled “Let’s Talk About Water” on Saturday, March 14 during the Children and Youth Forum at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR).

NESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, the largest international postgraduate water education facility in the world and is based in Delft, Netherlands, spearheaded the program “Let’s Talk About Water” to bring film and hydrologic science together to spark meaningful dialogue amongst scientists, students, and the greater public.

The program focused on floods, flooding, and disaster risk management, as well as infrastructure and mobility in times of flood.

Monster Movies

Noah (2014) played by Russell Crowe is an American biblically inspired epic directed by Darren Aronofsky.

When it comes to water and disasters, the following are some Hollywood clichés:

  1. Monster movies are always going to shoot the monster with a little revolver.
  2. There’s always a girl that twists her ankle.
  3. The car never starts when the monster is coming.

Russell knows floods!

Actually, groundwater flooding is often a sad event.


Floodwater can come from anywhere: the soil is one big pressurized system waiting to burst (like we are all living in a Dutch polder where the groundwater is creating fountains the minute we penetrate the top layer).

Maybe Russell was trying to warn us about the surcharge of sewer pipes! And if you’re not sure if he really knows what he’s talking about…check out this!

Yet, drainage issues are often not that spectacular, and the solution is not that sexy.


To really cause destruction, you’ll need a tidal wave of at least 50 meters—   average Hollywood storm surge.

Disaster Movie (2008) is an American parody film written and directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.
  1. it’s as much about the wavelength;
  2. much of the devastation is due to the lack of preparedness;
  3. damages are often due to floating debris;
  4. often cars, wooden structures, etc.;
  5. yet, in Hollywood floodwater is always clear;
  6. the heroes always miraculously escape; and
  7. and Lady Liberty is indestructible!


Disaster Management: it’s a mess!

First of all: there’s panic.


People will go running around hysterically when disaster strikes them.


When panic does occur, it usually involves few persons, is short-lived, and is not contagious.

A number of systematic studies of human behavior in disasters have failed to support news accounts of widespread panic.

Earthquake and fire, San Francisco, 1906,

“remarkable as it may seem, Wednesday night, while the whole city crashed and roared into ruin, was a quiet night.

There were no crowds. There was no shouting and yelling. There was no hysteria, no disorder…I saw not one woman who wept, not one man who was excited, not one person who was in the slightest degree panic-stricken…Never, in all San Francisco’s history, were her people so kind and courteous as on this night of terror.”

Air crash, Sioux City, Iowa, 1989.

“There  was  no  chaos—no  mass  confusion. They were calm and organized, and many of the survivors, once they got out, stayed and assisted others. They, themselves, were instrumental in saving additional lives.”

Terrorist attack, WTC, New York, 2001.

Majority of the evacuations were carried out in an orderly fashion, without panic.

The phone always works


During a disaster, we can call each other on our cellular phones.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004) is a American climate fiction-disaster film co-written, directed, and produced by Roland Emmerich.


Voice communication locks up fast on both land lines and cellular lines.

Usually SMS texting stays up and working, as long as the cell towers are up and powered via their emergency gas generators (Earthquakes in Christchurch, NZ and Tohoku, Japan)

The dog always survives.


Dealing with pets has been a major cause of concern during the evacuation and in the aftermath of recent disasters.

Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana, 2005

“As a flood victim, I grief over not being able to find my dog.”

Actually, after Katrina, hundreds of ‘custody battles’ were fought over pets – between original owners and new owners; who often felt that they had saved the pet.

There’s always a happy end.


Happy end: 3 people survive


The effects of a disaster last a long time.

Most of the disaster victims die in the chaos left by the disaster: epidemics, food and water scarcity, cold/heat etc.

Disaster-affected countries deplete much of their financial and material resources in the immediate post-impact phase – and simply can’t afford to recover or rebuild as quickly as they would like

Finally though, there’s always sharks! 

Floods provide great opportunities for sharks to enter the city and have a taste of human flesh!


 Hep Benitez is a Project Agos volunteer, an advocate of Safe School Philippines, and the Philippine representative for the Children and Youth Forum at the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan.


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