Sunday, December 26, 2004


volum1, no. 5
special edition
edited by Victor Cuvo

Dec. 26: People look at a car and debris that was washed by tidal waves in Madras, India.

Massive Earthquake Batters Southeast Asia

Sunday, December 26, 2004

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The world's most powerful earthquake (search) in 40 years triggered massive tidal waves that slammed into villages and seaside resorts across Asia on Sunday, killing more than 3,000 people in five countries.

Tourists, fishermen, homes and cars were swept away by walls of water up to 20 feet high unleashed by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake, centered off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra (search).

Sri Lanka's (search) prime minister said 1,500 people were killed in that country. Officials in India reported 1,000 dead. More than 400 were reported killed in Indonesia, 120 in Thailand and 15 in Malaysia. Hundreds were reported missing, and the death toll was expected to rise.

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at a magnitude of 8.9. Geophysicist Julie Martinez said it was the world's fifth largest since 1900 and the largest since a 9.2 quake hit Prince William Sound Alaska in 1964.

The effects of Sunday's quake rippled across the region, as towns were crushed by floodwaters and fishermen were swept out to sea.

In Sri Lanka — some 1,000 miles west of the quake's epicenter — the prime minister's office said 1,500 people had died. Officials said some 500,000 people were displaced.

An Associated Press photographer near Colombo, Sri Lanka, counted 24 bodies in a stretch of four miles. Rows of men and women were standing on the road asking if anyone had seen their family members.

A wall of water slammed into southern India, killing about 1,000 people, mostly in Tamil Nadu state, Home Minister Shivraj Patil said. Beaches were turned into virtual open mortuaries with bodies of people caught in the tidal wave being washed ashore.

Residents of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states said 12-foot storm surges slammed into shore.

"I was shocked to see innumerable fishing boats flying on the shoulder of the waves, going back and forth into the sea, as if made of paper," said P. Ramanamurthy, 40, who lives in Andra Pradesh's Kakinada town. "I had never imagined anything like this could happen."

In Indonesia, hospital and local officials said the death toll had reached 400.

Communications were down in several coastal towns facing the epicenter of the undersea quake off the western coast of the island's Aceh Province, raising fears of widespread and as yet unreported damage on the island.

"The ground was shaking for a long time," resident Yayan Zamzani told Jakarta's el-Shinta radio station. "It must be the strongest earthquake in the last 15 years."

Some 120 people died in popular southern Thailand resorts, the Narenthorn Center of the Public Health Ministry reported. The center said people were swept away in Phuket by a tsunami with 16-foot waves.

Police and rescue workers in Malaysia said 15 people were killed. Tens of thousands of people were temporarily evacuated from high-rise hotels and apartments in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and other cities after most of peninsular Malaysia felt tremors caused by the Indonesian quake.

Indonesia, a country of 17,000 islands, is prone to seismic upheaval because of its location on the margins of tectonic plates that make up the so-called the "Ring of Fire" around the Pacific Ocean basin.

The Indonesian quake struck just three days after an 8.1 quake struck the ocean floor between Australia and Antarctica, causing buildings to shake hundreds of miles away but no serious damage or injury.

Quakes reaching a magnitude 8 are very rare. A quake registering magnitude 8 rocked Japan's northern island of Hokkaido on Sept. 25, 2003, injuring nearly 600 people. An 8.4 magnitude tremor that stuck off the coast of Peru on June 23, 2001, killed 74.