The Day the Planet Shook

The tsunami on De­cem­ber 26, 2004 changed the lives of mil­lions of peo­ple in Asia.

Southasia - - SPECIAL REPORT -

In many Asian coun­tries - es­pe­cially those lo­cated along the shores of the In­dian Ocean - De­cem­ber 26, 2004 is re­mem­bered as a day when gi­ant waves swept hun­dreds of vil­lages and killed thou­sands of peo­ple in a mat­ter of few min­utes. Known as the Box­ing Day or In­dian Ocean tsunami, the nat­u­ral dis­as­ter is said to be one of the big­gest such dis­as­ters to hit the world and was cer­tainly the big­gest in the re­gion in the last 40 years.

The day be­gan like any other Sun­day. Hun­dreds of peo­ple liv­ing along the coast­line in In­done­sia, Thai­land, In­dia, Sri Lanka, the Mal­dives, etc., were get­ting ready to go about their weekly hol­i­day. Be­ing Christ­mas sea­son, tourist re­sorts in Thai­land were full to ca­pac­ity, with peo­ple from around the world vis­it­ing the coun­try fa­mous for its beau­ti­ful beach re­sorts.

It all started with an un­der­sea earth­quake in the In­dian Ocean when the In­dio-Aus­tralian Plate sub­ducted be­low the Eurasian Plate. The epi­cen­ter was off the west coast of In­done­sian city, Su­ma­tra. With a mag­ni­tude of 9.0 (some seis­mol­o­gists be­lieve that its in­ten­sity var­ied be­tween 9.0 and 9.3), the earth­quake shook the ground vi­o­lently, “un­leash­ing a se­ries of killer waves that sped across the In­dian Ocean at the speed of a jet air­liner,” ac­cord­ing to Na­tional Ge­o­graphic. The earth­quake caused the seafloor


to lift, dis­plac­ing the sea­wa­ter above. The U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Survey stated in its re­port that the earth­quake re­leased the en­ergy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs.

Within a few min­utes, the shock waves that trav­elled at a speed of up to 800km per hour had de­stroyed most of the Aceh prov­ince, killing 90,000 peo­ple. Thou­sands were killed in the An­daman Ni­co­bar Is­lands within a few min­utes as the tsunami con­tin­ued to spread across the ocean. The tsunami reached the west coast of Thai­land at 9:30am lo­cal time. The beach re­sorts, which were brim­ming with tourists, pre­sented a hor­ri­ble pic­ture of dev­as­ta­tion in a mat­ter of few min­utes. Within three hours of the earth­quake, the waves had reached the shores of In­dia, Sri Lanka and the Mal­dives, de­stroy­ing swathes of lands and killing thou­sands. The im­pact of the waves was so strong that they trav­elled across the ocean, reach­ing far off lands like Kenya and So­ma­lia.

Re­search stud­ies con­ducted to as­cer­tain the mag­ni­tude and im­pact of the earth­quake and the en­su­ing tsunami waves con­cluded that the earth­quake cre­ated “the long­est fault rup­ture and the long­est du­ra­tion of fault­ing ever ob­served." This can be bet­ter un­der­stood by com­par­ing earth­quakes of vary­ing mag­ni­tudes. A nor­mal or mod­er­ate earth­quake lasts for a few seconds while a small earth­quake lasts less than a sec­ond. In con­trast, the du­ra­tion of the Su­ma­tra earth­quake was be­tween 500 and 600 seconds.

The tremor was so strong that it shook the en­tire planet as much as 1cm. The ground in Sri Lanka, which was a thou­sand miles from the epi­cen­ter, moved up and down by more than 9 cen­time­ters. "This earth­quake was large enough to ba­si­cally vi­brate the whole planet as much as half an inch, or a cen­time­ter. Ev­ery­where we had in­stru­ments, we could see mo­tions," said Charles Am­mon, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of geo­sciences at Penn State Univer­sity.

The quake also cre­ated a nearly 800 miles long gash in the seabed - the big­gest gash ever ob­served. The en­ergy re­leased after the tremor was equal to a 100 gi­ga­ton bomb. As a great vol­ume of wa­ter was dis­placed above the dis­turbed seafloor, a tsunami was cre­ated and within hours the waves em­a­nat­ing from the earth­quake zone struck the coast­line of 11 In­dian Ocean coun­tries. The tsunami trav­eled nearly 3,000 miles to reach the shores of Africa, and de­spite the long dis­tance, the waves were strong enough to kill peo­ple and de­stroy prop­erty.

By the end of the day – De­cem­ber 26 – 150,000 peo­ple were dead or miss­ing. The death toll con­tin­ued to rise as more and more dead bod­ies

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