Snapshots from a not-so-happy globe

Earthquake and Tsunami in Asia

A great earthquake occurred at 00:58:50 (UTC), at 6:58 a.m. local time, on Sunday, 26 December 2004. The magnitude 9.0 event was located off the West coast of Northern Sumatra. This is the fourth largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and is the largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska earthquake. The earthquake had a depth of 10 km.

Earthquake and Tsunami in Asia

The earthquake triggered massive tsunamis (soo-NAH-mee) that affected several countries throughout South and Southeast Asia. The tsunami crossed into the Pacific Ocean and was recorded along the west coast of South and North America. Tsunamis also occurred on the coasts of Cocos Island, Kenya, Mauritius, Reunion and Seychelles. The earthquake was felt (VIII) at Banda Aceh and (V) at Medan, Sumatra. It was also felt in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Relief agencies struggled to rush aid to more than 3 million people in Asia and Africa after Sunday's disastrous earthquake and tsunami waves. Casualty figures rose dramatically as rescue workers found the remains of entire villages in Indonesia, the nation worst hit, accounting for more than half of the casualties.

By 30 December 2004 the death toll from the Asian tsunami disaster had risen to over 100,000 people, and by 05 January 2005 the number approached 150,000. While thousands remain missing and millions are now homeless, the latest confirmed death toll (as reported by various media sources) by country includes: almost 94,000 from Indonesia; 30,240 from Sri Lanka (including over 70 foreigners); 15,700 from India; 5,200 from Thailand (including 2,500 tourists); 175 from Somalia; 90 from Myanmar; 82 from the Maldives; 68 from Malaysia; 10 from Tanzania. 3 from Seychelles, 2 from Bangladesh; and one from Kenya,

Earthquake and Tsunami in Asia

The southeastern coastline of Sri Lanka was the worst-hit. In this densely populated area many villages along the ocean were washed off the map. Galle was a scene of total catastrophe. Almost the entire seafront was obliterated, with no buildings within 100 meters of the waterfront escaping undamaged.

In India the Andaman Islands, Nicobar Islands, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Chennai, Andhra Pradesh were all affected.

With half of the casualties being reported from Sumatra, Indonesia - the region nearest to the earthquake's epicenter - international relief organization officials warn that the overall casualty figures could rise to over 100,000.

The earthquake was followed by at least eight severe aftershocks. The aftershocks took place in three phases, starting in the south and moving north along a 750-mile line. Aftershocks were distributed along much of the shallow plate interface and primarily extended northwards of the epicenter to the Andaman Islands.

On October 1, 2004, the pnwealth Games medals. He was elected to Parliament in 2003.

Latest Death Toll

The United Nations estimates that more than 150,000 people died in the Dec. 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Indonesia.

Earthquake and Tsunami in Asia

The deaths occurred in countries in southern Asia and eastern Africa bordering the ocean:

Indonesia: 98,500
Sri Lanka: 30,680
India: 9,691
Thailand: 5,291
Somalia: 298
Myanmar: 90
Maldives: 82
Malaysia: 68
Tanzania: 10
Bangladesh: 2
Kenya: 1

Many of the dead and missing were visiting foreigners:

Germany: 60 dead. About 1,000 missing, Sweden: 52 dead. 1,903 missing, Britain: 50 dead. 391 missing, United States: 37 dead. No clear estimate of missing, Switzerland: 23 dead. 400 missing, Japan: 23 dead, more than 240 missing, France: 22 dead, fewer than 90 missing, Italy: 20 dead. 338 missing, Australia: 19 dead. 78 missing, Finland: 15 dead. 176 missing, Norway: 12 dead. 80 missing, South Korea: 12 dead. 8 missing, Austria: 10 dead. 488 missing, South Africa: 10 dead. 479 missing, Hong Kong: 10 dead, Singapore: 9 dead, Denmark: 7 dead. 62 missing, Netherlands: 7 dead, more than 30 missing, Belgium: 6 dead. 73 missing, Philippines: 5 dead. 13 missing, Israel: 4 dead. 3 missing, China: 3 dead. 15 missing, Taiwan: 3 dead, New Zealand: 2 dead. 24 missing, Russia: 2 dead. 8 missing, Argentina: 2 dead, Brazil: 2 dead, Mexico: 2 dead. 1 missing, Ireland: 1 dead. 9 missing, Czech Republic: 1 dead. 13 missing, Turkey: 1 dead. 9 missing, Colombia: 1 dead, Chile: 1 dead, Ukraine: 17 missing, Poland: 13 missing, Portugal: 8 missing, Greece: 7 missing, Belarus: 5 missing, Hungary: 5 missing, Luxembourg: 3 missing, Estonia: 3 missing, Romania: 2 missing, Spain: 2 missing, Brunei: 2 missing, Latvia: 1 missing, Liechtenstein: 1 missing, Croatia: 1 missing.

Indonesia After the Earthquake

The west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the closest inhabited area to the epicentre of the earthquake, was devastated by the tsunami. More than 70% of the inhabitants of some coastal villages are reported to have died.

The death toll stands at 101,318 but officials expect it to rise. Heavy rains after the tsunami in Aceh, northern Sumatra, have increased the risk of cholera and other waterborne diseases.

Sri Lanka After the Earthquake

Earthquake and Tsunami in Asia

More people have died in Sri Lanka as a result of the tsunami than anywhere else, apart from Indonesia. A correspondent who flew over the country by helicopter described it as ravaged. Homes, crops and fishing boats have all been destroyed.

Some 30,500 have died, and thousands more are missing. The number of homeless people is put at between 800,000 and one million.

India After the Earthquake

India's south-east coast, especially the state of Tamil Nadu, was the worst affected area on the mainland.

Nearly 8,800 people are confirmed dead in mainland India, 7,923 of them in Tamil Nadu, and 97 are missing (see below for data on the Andaman and Nicobar islands). At least 140,000 Indians, mostly from fishing families, are in relief centres.

India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands After the Earthquake

Salt water, which washed over the islands, contaminated many sources of fresh water, and destroyed large areas of arable land. Most of the islands' jetties have also been destroyed.

At least 900 of the island's 400,000 people are confirmed dead and 5,592 are missing - 4,500 from Katchall island alone.

Thailand After the Earthquake

The west coast of Thailand was severely hit, including outlying islands and tourist resorts such as Phuket. Some bodies may still lie in the rubble of ruined hotels.

More than 5,200 are confirmed dead, but the Thai prime minister says this figure is certain to rise. Half of the bodies identified so far are foreigners, from a total of 36 countries.

Maldives After the Earthquake

Twenty of the Maldives' 199 inhabited islands have been described as "totally destroyed". The shallowness of the water limited the tsunami's destructive power, but flooding was extensive. Many luxury resorts will be closed for months.

At least 82 people have died and 26 are missing. About 12,500 have been displaced.

Malaysia After the Earthquake

Although Malaysia lies close to the epicentre, much of its coastline was spared widespread devastation because it was shielded by Sumatra. However, scores of people were swept from beaches near the northern island of Penang.

At least 68 people are confirmed dead.

Burma After the Earthquake

The worst affected area was the Irrawaddy Delta, inhabited by poor subsistence farmers and fishing families.

Burma's military junta has put the death toll at 64, but the World Food Programme (WFP) says this may be an underestimate. One WFP employee found 200 households where at least one person, who had been out fishing when the tsunami struck, was missing.

Somalia After the Earthquake

Somalia is the worst-hit African state, with damage concentrated in the region of Puntland, on the tip of the Horn of Africa. The water destroyed 1,180 homes, smashed 2,400 boats and rendered freshwater wells and reservoirs unusable, the UN said in a report on 4 January.

Nearly 300 Somalis are known to have died, with thousands more homeless and many fishermen still unaccounted for. About 50,000 people have been displaced.

About Tsunamis


Tsunamis, also called seismic sea wave or incorrectly tidal waves, are caused generally by earthquakes, less commonly by submarine landslides, infrequently by submarine volcanic eruptions and very rarely by large meteorite impacts in the ocean. To generate a tsunami, the fault where the earthquake occurs must be underneath or near the ocean, and cause vertical movement of the seafloor (up to several meters) over a large area (up to a hundred thousand square kilometers). The amount of vertical and horizontal motion of the sea floor, the area over which it occurs, the simultaneous occurrence of slumping of underwater sediments due to the shaking, and the efficiency with which energy is transferred from the earth's crust to the ocean water are all part of the tsunami generation mechanism.

Where the ocean is over 6,000 m deep, unnoticed tsunami waves can travel at the speed of a commercial jet plane, over 800 km per hour (~500 mi per hour). They can move from one side of the Pacific Ocean to the other in less than a day. This great speed makes it important to be aware of the tsunami as soon as it is generated. Scientists can predict when a tsunami will arrive at various places by knowing the source characteristics of the earthquake that generated the tsunami and the characteristics of the seafloor along the paths to those places. Tsunamis travel much slower in shallower coastal waters where their wave heights begin to increase dramatically.

Earthquake and Tsunami in Asia (Reuters/Kieran Doherty)

A skull displaced from its coffin that was unearthed by the tsunami last weekend lies on the roadside in Sinnamunhattuvaram on Sri Lanka's east coast January 3, 2005.

As the tsunami wave travels from the deep-water, continental slope region to the near-shore region, tsunami runup occurs. Runup is a measurement of the height of the water onshore observed above a reference sea level. Contrary to many artistic images of tsunamis, most tsunamis do not result in giant breaking waves (like normal surf waves at the beach that curl over as they approach shore). Rather, they come in much like very strong and very fast tides (i.e., a rapid, local rise in sea level). Much of the damage inflicted by tsunamis is caused by strong currents and floating debris. The force of some tsunamis is enormous. Large rocks weighing several tons, along with boats and other debris, can be moved inland hundreds of meters by tsunami wave activity, and homes and buildings destroyed. All this material and water move with great force, and can kill or injure people. The small number of tsunamis that do break often form vertical walls of turbulent water called bores. Tsunamis will often travel much farther inland than normal waves. After runup, part of the tsunami energy is reflected back to the open ocean. In addition, a tsunami can generate a particular type of wave called edge waves that travel back-and forth, parallel to shore. These effects result in many arrivals of the tsunami at a particular point on the coast rather than a single wave. Because of the complicated behavior of tsunami waves near the coast, the first runup of a tsunami is often not the largest, emphasizing the importance of not returning to a beach several hours after a tsunami hits.

About Tsunamis in History

Peru, 2001 : A tsunami washed over the low-lying coastal resort region near CamanĂ¡, southern Peru, following a strong earthquake on June 23, 2001. The earthquake was one of the most powerful of the last 35 years and had a magnitude of 8.4. After the initial quake, coastal residents witnessed a sudden drawdown of the ocean and knew a tsunami was imminent. They had less than 20 minutes to reach higher ground before the tsunami hit. Waves as high as 8 m came in four destructive surges reaching as far as 1.2 km inland. The dashed line marks the approximate area of tsunami inundation. Thousands of buildings were destroyed, and the combined earthquake and tsunami killed as many as 139 people. This image (ISS004-ESC-6128) was taken by astronauts onboard the International Space Station on 10 January 2002. It shows some of the reasons that the CamanĂ¡ area was so vulnerable to tsunami damage. The area has a 1 km band of coastal plain that is less than 5 m in elevation. Much of the plain can be seen by the bright green fields of irrigated agriculture that contrast with the light-colored desert high ground. Many of the tsunami-related deaths were workers in the onion fields in the coastal plain that were unwilling to leave their jobs before the end of the shift. A number of lives were spared because the tsunami occurred during the resort off-season, during the daylight when people could see the ocean drawdown, and during one of the lowest tides of the year.

Alaska, 1964 : More than 90% of the deaths in Alaska during the 1964 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis were due to the tsunamis. The great Alaskan earthquake of 1964 was the largest earthquake in North America and the second largest ever recorded (largest occurred in Chile in 1960). The earthquake occurred at 5:36pm on March 27, 1964, Alaska Standard Time (or, at 03:36 Universal Time code on March 28, 1964). The epicenter was in the Northern Prince William Sound (61.1N 147.5W) about 75 miles E of Anchorage, or about 55 miles west of Valdez. The reported Richter magnitudes (Ms) for this earthquake ranged from 8.4 to 8.6. The moment magnitude (Mw) is reported as 9.2. The depth, or point where the rupture began was about 14 miles within the earth's crust. The 1964 earthquake caused 115 deaths in Alaska alone, with 106 of these due to tsunamis which were generated by tectonic uplift of the sea floor, and by localized subareal and submarine landslides.

Hokkaido, 1993 : The Hokkaido-Nansei-Oki earthquake on July 12 produced one of the largest tsunamis in Japan's history. At 2217 local time (1317 UTC), the Ms-7.8 quake rocked the west coast of Hokkaido and the small, offshore island of Okushiri in the Sea of Japan, generating a major tsunami. Within 2-5 minutes, extremely large waves engulfed the Okushiri coastline and the central west coast of Hokkaido. Extensive damage occurred on the southern tip of Okushiri Island at the town of Aonae.

Hokkaido, 1993 : Tsunami vertical runup measurements varied between 15 and 30 m over a 20-km portion of the southern part of Okushiri Island, with several 10-m values on the northern portion of the island. Along the west coast of Hokkaido, no survey values exceeded 10 m, but damage was extensive at several coastal towns. Given the sudden onset of the tsunami and its high energy, it is amazing that more people were not killed. As of 21 July 1993, 185 fatalities were confirmed, with 120 attributed to the tsunami. The death toll is expected to rise, as missing persons are included among the fatalities. Property losses have been estimated at $600 million, due principally to tsunami damage.

Papua New Guinea, 17 July 1998 : On the evening of Friday July 17, 1998, a magnitude Ms 7.1 earthquake occurred near the northwest coast of Papua New Guinea 850 km (510 miles) northwest of Port Moresby, the capitol of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The earthquake, which occurred at 6:49 pm local time (08:49 GMT), was followed by a series of three catastrophic tsunami waves that devastated the villages of Sissano, Warupu, Arop (1 and 2) and Malol on the north coast of PNG killing at least 2,182, injuring 1,000, and displacing more than 10,000 people. Looking back toward the coast from about one-fifth km inland near the Arop school site. Tsunami sand was deposited more than 650 m inland at this location. Tsunami deposits were gray colored sand typically overlying brown, rooted soil. The sand particles were larger near the shore. In places, plants were bent over and buried by the sand or removed entirely by the tsunami. (Photo credit: L. Dengler, Humboldt State University.)

Papua New Guinea, 17 July 1998 : The sand spit where the two Arop villages once stood. In the foreground are remains of a septic tank. The wave removed almost all other traces of the several hundred houses that stood on the sand spit. (Photo credit: Hugh Davies, University of PNG.)

Papua New Guinea, 17 July 1998 : Air photo of the Sissano Lagoon spit near the lagoon mouth. The Arop village of Otto was located near here. The spit averages about 100 m in width and is no higher than a few meters in elevation above sea level. The tsunami overtopped the spit and washed the villages on it into the lagoon. Note debris in the lagoon. Here damage extended further from the coast because lagoon waters helped to transmit tsunami energy as far as 1.3 km from the coast, snapping off mature mangroves one to two meters above the water level. (Photo credit: National Mapping Bureau of Papua New Guinea.)

Sources: www.bbc.co.uk, www.globalsecurity.org, www.cbc.ca

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