Monday, December 27, 2004

Thousands killed by earthquake and tsunami in south Asia

Sea surges kill thousands in Asia More than 11,500
people have been killed across southern Asia in massive
sea surges triggered by the strongest earthquake in the
world for 40 years, acccording to Sunday nigth datas.

The 8.9 magnitude quake struck under the sea near Aceh
in north Indonesia, generating a wall of water that sped
across thousands of kilometres of sea.

More than 4,100 died in Indonesia, 4,300 in Sri Lanka
and 2,900 in India.

Casualty figures are rising over a wide area, including
resorts in Sri Lanka and Thailand packed with

Exact numbers of people killed, injured or missing in
the countries hit, are impossible to confirm.

Hundreds are still thought to be missing from coastal
regions and, in Sri Lanka alone, officials say more than
a million people have been forced from their homes.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared a
national disaster and the military has been deployed to
help rescue efforts.

Hundreds of fishermen are missing off India's southern
coast, and there are reports of scores of bodies being
washed up on beaches.

In Indonesia, communications remain difficult,
particularly to the strife-torn region of Aceh where the
main quake, early on Sunday morning, was followed by
nine aftershocks. Reports speak of bodies being
recovered from trees.

A national disaster has also been announced in the
low-lying Maldives islands, more than 2,500km (1,500
miles) from the quake's epicentre, after they were hit
by severe flooding.

The Indian-owned Andaman and Nicobar islands, much
nearer the epicentre, were also badly hit.

Casualty reports could not be officially confirmed, but
a police chief told reporters 300 people had died and
another 700 were feared dead.

Waves forced out from the earthquake are even reported
to have reached Somalia, on the east coast of Africa.

And as far away as the Seychelles, nine people were
reported missing as a two-metre surge struck.

Resort 'wiped out'

International aid agencies have called for a rapid
response to the emergency to avert further deaths.

The European Union immediately pledged 3m euros (£2.1m)
to disaster relief efforts.

Messages of condolences have poured in from around the

US President George W Bush offered aid to affected
nations and expressed sorrow for the "terrible loss of
life and suffering".

Harrowing reports of people caught in the devastation
and dramatic tales of escape are emerging.

Jayanti Lakshmi, 70, had gone shopping with her
daughter-in-law in Cuddalore, southern India. Ms Lakshmi
returned to find her son and twin grandsons dead in
their hut.

"I wish I had died instead of the others, my
daughter-in-law would have a life. I can't bear to watch
her pain," she said.

All of us fear the final death toll, and in particular
are worried that many tourists who went out on boat
trips this morning have not returned Charles Dickson,
Phuket, Thailand

In Thailand, hundreds of holiday bungalows are reported
to have been destroyed on the popular Phi Phi island.

Resort owner Chan Marongtaechar told AP: "I am afraid
there will be a high figure of foreigners missing in the
sea, and also my staff."

Indonesia's location - along the Pacific geological
"Ring of Fire" - makes it prone to volcanic eruptions
and earthquakes.

Sunday's tremor - the fifth strongest since 1900 - had a
particularly widespread effect because it seems to have
taken place just below the surface of the ocean,
analysts say.

Bruce Presgrave of the US Geological service told the
Reuters news agency: "These big earthquakes, when they
occur in shallow water... basically slosh the ocean
floor... and it's as if you're rocking water in the
bathtub and that wave can travel throughout the ocean."

Experts say tsunamis generated by earthquakes can travel
at up to 500km/h.

Sri Lanka: 4,300 dead
Indonesia: 4,185 dead
India: 2,900 dead
Thailand: 310 dead
Malaysia: 28 dead
Maldives: 10 dead
Bangladesh: 2 dead

System might have reduced Tsunami damage

The catastrophic death toll in Asia caused by a massive
tsunami might have been reduced had India and Sri Lanka
been part of an international warning system designed to
warn coastal communities about potentially deadly waves,
scientists say.

Some 5,300 people in India and Sri Lanka were among the
more than 11,000 people killed after being hit by walls
of water triggered by a tremendous earthquake early
Sunday off Sumatra.

The warning system is designed to alert nations that
potentially destructive waves may hit their coastlines
within three to 14 hours. Scientists said seismic
networks recorded Sunday's massive earthquake, but
without wave sensors in the region, there was no way to
determine the direction a tsunami would travel.

A single wave station south of the earthquake's
epicenter registered tsunami activity less than 2 feet
high heading south toward Australia, researchers said.

The waves also struck resort beaches on the west coast
of the Thailand's south peninsula, killing hundreds.
Although Thailand belongs to the international tsunami
warning network, its west coast does not have the
system's wave sensors mounted on ocean buoys.

The northern tip of the earthquake fault is located near
the Andaman Islands, and tsunamis appear to have rushed
eastward toward the Thai resort of Phuket on Sunday
morning when the community was just stirring.

"They had no tidal gauges and they had no warning," said
Waverly Person, a geophysicist at the National
Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., which
monitors seismic activity worldwide. "There are no buoys
in the Indian Ocean and that's where this tsunami

The tsunami was triggered by the most powerful
earthquake recorded in the past 40 years.

The earthquake, whose magnitude was a staggering 9.0,
unleashed walls of water more than two stories high to
the west across the Bay of Bengal, slamming into coastal
communities 1,000 miles away. Hours after the quake,
Sumatra was struck by a series of powerful aftershocks.

Researchers say the earthquake broke on a fault line
deep off the Sumatra coast, running north and south for
about 600 miles or as far north as the Andaman and
Nicobar islands between India and Mynamar.

"It's a huge rupture," said Charles McCreary, director
of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center near Honolulu.
"It's conceivable that the sea floor deformed all the
way along that rupture, and that's what initiates

Tsunamis as large and destructive as Sunday's typically
happen only a few times in a century.

A tsunami is not a single wave, but a series of
traveling ocean waves generated by geological
disturbances near or below the ocean floor. With nothing
to stop them, these waves can race across the ocean like
the crack of a bullwhip, gaining momentum over thousands
of miles.

Most are triggered by large earthquakes but they can be
caused by landslides, volcanoes and even meteor impacts.

The waves are generated when geologic forces displace
sea water in the ocean basin. The bigger the earthquake,
the more the Earth's crust shifts and the more seawater
begins to move.

Most tsunamis occur in the Pacific because the ocean
basin is rimmed by the Ring of Fire, a long chain of the
Earth's most seismically active spots. Marine geologists
recently have determined that under certain conditions,
the U.S. East Coast and other heavily populated
coastlines also could be vulnerable.

In a tsunami, waves typically radiate out in directions
opposite from the seismic disturbance. In the case of
the Sumatra quake, the seismic fault ran north to south
beneath the ocean floor, while the tsunami waves shot
out west and east.

Tsunamis are distinguished from normal coastal surf by
their great length and speed. A single wave in a tsunami
series might be 100 miles long and race across the ocean
at 600 mph. When it approaches a coastline, the wave
slows dramatically, but it also rises to great heights
because the enormous volume of water piles up in shallow
coastal bays.

And unlike surf, which is generated by wind and the
gravitational tug of the moon and other celestial
bodies, tsunamis do not break on the coastline every few
seconds. Because of their size, it might take an hour
for another one to arrive.

Some tsunamis appear as a tide that doesn't stop rising,
while others are turbulent and savagely chew up the
coast. Without instrumentation, so little is known about
this tsunami that researchers must wait for eyewitness
accounts to determine its characteristics.

"It was a big tsunami, but it is hard to say exactly how
many waves there were or what happened," McCreary said.

In the hours following an earthquake, tsunamis
eventually lose their power to friction over the rough
ocean bottom or simply as the waves spread out over the
ocean's enormous surface.

The international warning system was started in 1965,
the year after tsunamis associated with a magnitude 9.2
temblor struck Alaska in 1964. It is administered by the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Member states include all the major Pacific rim nations
in North America, Asia and South America, was well as
the Pacific islands, Australia and New Zealand. It also
includes France, which has sovereignty over some Pacific
islands, and Russia.

However, India and Sri Lanka are not members. "That's
because tsunamis are much less frequent in the Indian
Ocean," McCreary said.

The warning system analyzes earthquake information from
several seismic networks, including the U.S. Geological
Service. The seismic information is fed into computer
models that "picture" how and where a tsunami might
form. It dispatches warnings about imminent tsunami
hazards, including predictions how fast the waves are
traveling and their expected arrival times in specific
geographic areas.

As the waves rush past tidal stations in the ocean,
bulletins updating the tsunami warning are issued. Other
models generate "inundation maps" of what areas could be
damaged, and what communities might be spared.

Not all earthquakes generate tsunamis. The warning
center typically does not issue warnings for earthquakes
below magnitude 7.0, which are still unusually powerful

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