The Worst Natural Disaster in the Indian Ocean: 2004 Tsunami, Facts You Should Know
Winter 2004, the Boxing day right after Christmas, thousands of tourists had gone to the sunny beaches of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand to run away from the winter freeze and find shelter in tropical heaven. The Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 is considered to be the deadliest disaster in human history, bringing death to more than 230 thousand people in 14 Asian countries.
All That You Need to Know about the Boxing Day Tsunami
December 26, 2024, will mark 20 years since the devastating 2004 Indian ocean earthquake and tsunami hit Southeast Asia. On December 26, 2004, at 300.58 GMT as a result of a collision of Indian, Burma, and Australian lithospheric plates one of the biggest in the history of Indian Ocean underwater earthquakes has happened.
The earthquake that occurred the same day off the coast of Indonesia caused a giant wave, the deadliest tsunami. Its magnitude according to different estimates was from 9.1 to 9.3. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated the magnitude of the earthquake at 9.1. The earthquake was the strongest since 1964 and the third strongest since 1900.
The epicenter of the Indian Ocean tsunami was located at a depth of about 20 kilometers under the ocean floor approximately 200 kilometers to the west of the northern tip of Sumatra Island (Indonesia). The focal length of the earthquake in the north-west direction (Andaman Sea) – south-east direction (along the coast of Sumatra Island) was more than one thousand kilometers. The energy released by the earthquake was approximately equal to the energy of the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons or the world’s annual energy consumption.
The earthquake contributed to a sharp shift of the axis of rotation of the Earth by three centimeters, and the Earth’s day decreased by three microseconds.
The vertical displacement of the Earth’s crust strata at the epicenter of the earthquake was 8-10 meters. The abrupt and almost instantaneous shift of the oceanic plate caused deformation of the oceanic bottom surface that provoked a giant wave- the tsunami of 2004.
It was 0.8 meters high in the open ocean, 15 meters in the coastal zone, and 30 meters in the splash zone. The speed of the wave in the open ocean reached 720 kilometers per hour and decreased to 36 kilometers per hour as it slowed down in the coastal zone.
The second shock, the epicenter of which was slightly north of the first, had a magnitude of 7.3 and generated a second 2004 tsunami wave. After the first and strongest shocks of December 26, the earthquakes in the region occurred almost every day for several weeks with a rather high magnitude of 5-6.
The resulting tsunami immediately struck the islands of Sumatra and Java. Indonesia was the very first country hit by the Indonesia tsunami in 2004. In about 10-20 minutes it reached the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. An hour and a half later, the tsunami struck the coast of Thailand, the so-called Thailand tsunami 2004. Two hours later it reached Sri Lanka, the east coast of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. In the Maldives, the wave height did not exceed two meters, but the islands themselves do not rise above the ocean surface by more than a meter and a half, so two-thirds of the territory of the island state capital Male was underwater. In general, the Maldives was not too badly affected, since it is surrounded by coral reefs that absorbed the waves’ impact and dampened their energy, thereby providing passive protection from the tsunami.
In six hours the wave reached the east coast of Africa. In eight hours it had passed the Indian Ocean, and in twenty-four hours, for the first time in the history of wave observation, the tsunami went around the entire world ocean. Even on the Pacific coast of Mexico, the wave height was 2.5 meters. The 2004 Indian ocean tsunami caused huge destruction and a large number of deaths on the coast of the Indian Ocean countries.
The total number of 2004 tsunami deaths in the countries of Asia and Africa is still not precisely known, but according to different sources, the figure is about 230 thousand people. As a result of the tsunami, 1.6 million people were forced to leave their homes. According to UN estimates, at least 5 million people needed help. The humanitarian and economic losses were incalculable. The world community quickly stepped in to assist tsunami-affected countries, providing life-saving food, water, medical care, and building materials.
In the first six months of relief operations, the UN distributed food to more than 1.7 million people, provided shelter to more than 1.1 million people left homeless, providing drinking water to more than one million people, and vaccinated more than 1.2 million children against measles. The rapid and effective delivery of emergency humanitarian assistance has prevented more people from dying from basic necessities and has also prevented disease outbreaks.
Humanitarian aid in response to boxing day tsunami 2004 has exceeded $14 billion. Following this natural disaster, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO was tasked with developing and implementing a Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System for the Indian Ocean. In 2005, an Intergovernmental Coordination Group was established. Eight years of international cooperation under the auspices of the IOC resulted in the operationalization of the Tsunami Warning System in March 2013, when the regional tsunami watch centers in Australia, India, and Indonesia assumed responsibility for transmitting tsunami warnings to Indian Ocean countries.
The world will always remember that 2004 Christmas tsunami with the hope that such disasters will never happen again!