We survived a 500-year flood, so we've learned the hard way to tell the difference between low-lying areas and higher ground.
And though soggy boxes, papers and photos are still fresh in memory, our flood panic is nothing like northern Japan's rush to higher ground.
We saw clips of earthquake destruction in real time, then read of tsunami damage. We watched houses, boats and cars swirl through towns. We saw ships in places ships should never be.
We watched as the monster wave broke barriers, overswept highways, careened over fields and flattened buildings.
Aerial footage showed the wave heading miles inland to where unsuspecting drivers veered first one way and then another to escape catastrophe. We saw piles of burning debris floating toward highways and buildings.
We then heard of nuclear radiation leaks and the furious, heroic attempts to keep reactors intact. The whole catastrophe was topped with below-freezing temps and snow.
On some sites, tabloid story snippets in the margins stood in jarring contrast to stark disaster photos: celebrity romance; a pregnant actress; a starlet's new Chanel campaign; Bieber fever and, of course, a blip about Charlie Sheen.
Next to coverage of one of the most horrific disasters ever, these stories revealed just how shallow and trivial we are. It pointed out the low lying areas in which we spend our time splashing around.
These stories almost trivialized the disaster, turning it into a Godzilla movie promo: Nothing can be done to stop the advance of the monster. Shocked bystanders run in panic, desperately seeking higher ground.
But this was no sci-fi thriller. The sheer depth of the calamity - with layer upon layer of horrific developments - prevented tabloid headlines from mocking and distorting the event.
The wave moved at 500 mph and hit land 10 to 30 minutes after the quake. That isn't a lot of lead time. How could anyone escape? Yet many did.
Usually, one profound survivor story will stay with you from events like this. For me, it is the story of Ayumi Osuga, mentioned in USA Today. Osuga was teaching her three young children origami when the quake hit. The damage seemed minor, the story says.
Right then her husband called, screaming for her to leave immediately. Shaken by his intensity, she grabbed her children and left for her in-laws' house, 12 miles away on higher ground.
She later returned with her husband to what was left of their house. Almost nothing was salvageable, and neighbors were dead.
Osuga says, My family, my children ... I have come to realize what is important in life.
Tragedy tends to rinse away distractions, all right.
Because we've now been through a Godzilla-size flood, we're less likely to sit smugly by, making excuses as to why tragedy can happen there but would never happen here. Though we're about as distant as possible from tsunami threats, we've seen that massive flooding takes only 8 inches of rain. If that isn't enough to keep us humble, the Yellowstone caldera super volcano could erupt at any time, covering us in 20 feet of ash.
We are unlikely to act like the gawkers in San Francisco who - instead of fleeing to higher ground - rushed to the waterfront to see the tsunami.
Once you've lugged rolls of wet carpet up narrow steps, you have a healthier respect for nature and nature's God.
An old song describes the journey out of low-lying areas and up into safety: I'm pressing on the upward way, New heights I'm gaining every day; Still praying as I'm onward bound, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
Donna Marmorstein writes and lives in Aberdeen. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.