Strongest earthquake in 40 years hits Southeast Asia

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Animation of Indonesia tsunami (Credit: NOAA)

Indian Ocean - The death toll continues to grow and millions face a homeless life in the new year as coastal communities in south Asia struggle against continued aftershocks and flooding caused by the largest earthquake to strike the planet in more than a generation.

The magnitude 9.0 undersea megathrust earthquake struck off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia on December 26, 2004, at 00:58:50 UTC (or 07:58:50 local time in Jakarta and Bangkok).

The earthquake was the strongest in the world since the 9.2-magnitude Good Friday Earthquake which struck Alaska, USA in 1964, and the fourth largest since 1900. More than 140,000 deaths[1] were caused by resulting tsunami, which in Thailand were up to 10 meters (33 feet) tall, and struck within three hours of the initial event.

Multiple tsunamis struck and ravaged coastal regions all over the Indian Ocean, devastating regions including the Indonesian province of Aceh, the coast of Sri Lanka, coastal areas of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the resort island of Phuket, Thailand, and even as far away as Somalia, 4,100 km (2,500 mi) west of the epicenter.

While the earthquake and the tsunamis are no longer ongoing (other than aftershocks), the humanitarian and economic crisis generated by the disaster is still ongoing. This report will attempt to cover the crisis as it continues to develop.

Damage and casualties

In Chennai, India, the force of the waves threw cars off the coast road. Several hundred are feared dead in Tamil Nadu state.
Country Deaths Injured Missing Displaced
Confirmed Estimated
Indonesia 79,940 [2] 100,000 [3] 100,000+? 1,240 [4] 100,000s
Sri Lanka *41,008 [5] Up to 50,000 8,200+ [6] 4,000+ [7] ~1.5 million [8]
India 14,244 [9] 15,000+ 10,000 [10] 100,000s
Thailand 5,187 [11] 6,800 [12] 8,457 [13] 3,810 [14] 29,000+
Somalia 132 [15] 100s
Myanmar (Burma) 90 [16] 45 [17] 14 788
Maldives 73 [18] 31 [19] 6.697 [20]
Malaysia 66 183 6 5,000
Tanzania 10 [21]
Seychelles 3 7
Bangladesh 2
Kenya 2
South Africa 2 [22]
Madagascar 0 1,200
Total 140,082 160,000+. 510,000 [23] 22,000+ 3 - 5 million [24]

Note: All figures are approximate and subject to constant change. * Includes 14,000 casualties from the regions controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels.

Widespread damage to infrastructure

The great earthquake triggered massive tsunamis (popularly known as "tidal waves"), which struck the coasts of the Indian Ocean. However Pacific Ocean coasts were not affected.

The Aceh province of Indonesia is the most affected. Officials in Sri Lanka estimate the death toll to be over 40,000. Much of the capital Colombo is flooded and high number of casualties are feared in the North East of the country around the town of Trincomalee. The New York Times estimated that at least 2 hours passed from the time of the earthquake before the island was affected. The tragedy has caused at least some Sri Lankans to ask what precautions could have allowed more people to avoid harm.

In India, the islands of Andaman and Nicobar and the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are the most affected. The police have said that there are 100 dead in Chennai city alone. Mild tremors were experienced in Chennai, Bangalore and Cochin cities. The Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh has expressed concern over the disaster and said that all directions were given to the different agencies including the Navy for quick relief work. The meteorological department has warned people in coastal areas in southern India to stay away as there are possibilities of more waves due to after-shocks for the next 3 to 4 days.[25]

In addition to the large number of local residents, numerous tourists vacationing during the busy Christmas holiday travel season were among the victims. In a press conference on December 31, Swedish prime minister Göran Persson reported that the number of Swedes that are confirmed dead is 59 and the number of missing Swedes is 3 559. Most of these were on vacation in Thailand, primarily in Khao Lak and Phi Phi Island.

As of December 31, 2004, the death toll is estimated by the United Nations to be up to 150,000. However, water-borne diseases are expected to kill nearly twice as many people.

Quake characteristics

Map of activity along India and Burma plates with detailed legend

The quake was initially reported at magnitude 6.8 but soon upgraded to 8.5, and then 8.9 and finally 9.0. The largest recorded earthquake was the Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960, at magnitude 9.5.

The hypocenter was measured at 3.298°N, 95.779°E, some 160 kilometres west of Sumatra, at a depth of 10 km underwater, within the "Ring of Fire" zone of frequent earthquakes.

The quake was felt as far away as Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Malaysia, Maledives Singapore and Thailand.

The earthquake was unusually large in geographical extent. 1,125 km (700 mi) of faultline slipped 15 m (50 ft) along the subduction zone where the India Plate dives under the Burma Plate. This formed a shock wave in the Indian Ocean, creating tsunamis that traveled at up to 800 km/h (500 mi/h).

Numerous aftershocks of between magnitude 5.7 and 6.1 were reported off the Andaman Islands in the following hours. Aftershocks off the Nicobar Islands were also reported, including ones of magnitude 7.3 [26], and 6.5 [27]. (See USGS current earthquake information.)

Based on one seismic model, some of the smaller islands southwest of Sumatra have moved southwest up to 20 m (66 ft). The northern tip of Sumatra, which is on the Burma Plate as opposed to the southern regions on the Sunda Plate, may also have moved southwest up to 36 m (120 ft). Other models suggest that most of the movement would have been vertical rather than lateral. Further measurement is needed to determine the nature of the actual movement. The massive release of energy and shift in mass also caused the earth to wobble slightly on its axis. [28]

One year ago to this day, over 30,000 Iranians were killed by an earthquake with a 6.6 magnitude. The Indian Ocean Earthquake came just three days after a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in a completely uninhabited region off Macquarie Island near Antarctica.

Earthquakes above magnitude 9 occur, on average, only about once every twenty years.

Post-tsunami humanitarian situation

Large amounts of humanitarian aid are needed due to widespread damage to infrastructure, food and water shortages and economic damage to the fishing and tourism industries. Epidemics are of special concern, as they are highly likely due to the high population density and tropical climate of the affected areas. The United Nations has stated that the largest relief operation in history is underway.

The overwhelming concern of humanitarian and government agencies is to quickly identify and bury the dead before they become a health issue and contribute to the spread of diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, dysentery and typhoid (according to widespread but misguided belief The Times). Other high priorities are delivery of medical supplies and personnel to overwhelmed hospitals and clinics, tent shelters and clothing to people who have lost their houses and belongings, and potable water. Many usual sources of water were spoiled either by salt water, broken by the force of the tsunami, or contaminated with bodies of dead people or livestock, requiring water purification equipment or trucking potable water into the affected region.

Humanitarian assistance

Governments and humanitarian organisations around the world are scrambling to offer aid and technical help after the quake and tsunamis that killed thousands of people in southern Asia and northwest Africa and caused wide-spread devastation. The World Bank estimates the amount of aid needed at USD 5 billion. [29]

Numerous organizations are also asking businesses and individuals to contribute towards relief efforts:

WARNING: Due the nature of Wikinews, it cannot guarantee the veracity of outside links and scams involving charities are a danger. Beware of organizations that have names similar to that of well-known aid agencies.

Region Organization Donation site Local telephone number
International IFRCS Red Cross and Red Crescent
Australia Red Cross Red Cross 1800 811 700
UNICEF UNICEF 1300 884 233
Care Australia Care Australia 1800 020 046
Oxfam Oxfam Community Aid Abroad International Crisis Fund 1800 034 034
World Vision World Vision Australia 133 240
Canada Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace Online Donation Page 1-888-664-3387
Canadian Tamil Congress Canadian Tamil Congress 416-751-8777
CARE Canada CARE Canada Online Donation Form 1-800-267-5232
Christian Children's Fund of Canada Christian Children's Fund of Canada Online Donation Form 1-800-263-5437
Foster Parents Plan Foster Parents Plan Online Donation Form 1-800-387-1418
ICNA Relief ICNA Donation / Zakat Page 1-866-637-4357
Médecins Sans Frontières Médecins Sans Frontières Online Donation Form 1-800 982-7903
Mennonite Central Committee Mennonite Central Committee Online Donation Form 1-888-622-6337
Oxfam Canada Oxfam Canada Online Donation Form 1-800-466-9326
Red Cross Canadian Red Cross online donations 1-800-418-1111
Salvation Army Salvation Army Online Donation Form Donation line: 1-800-725-2769
UNICEF Canada UNICEF Canada Online Donation Form 1-800-567-4483
World Vision Canada World Vision Canada Online Donation Form 1-800-268-5528
France Action contre la faim Action contre la faim
Red Cross Croix Rouge française
Fondation de France Fondation de France
Handicap International
Médecins du Monde Médecins du Monde
MSF Médecins Sans Frontières (FR)
Secours populaire Secours populaire
Unicef Unicef (FR)
India The Hindu The Hindu Relief Fund
PM's office Prime Minister's National Relief Fund
Tamilnadu Chief Minister's Public Relief Fund
Tsunami Relief Fund
New Zealand World Vision 0800 80 2000
Norway Red Cross Norwegian Red Cross 820 43 000
Switzerland Swiss Solidarity Glückskette
United Kingdom MSF Médecins Sans Frontières (UK) 020 7067 4214
Red Cross [30] 08705 125 125
DEC Disasters Emergency Committee 0870 60 60 900
United States Directory of various NGOs working on the ground

The following countries and organization are contributing towards the relief efforts (listed alphabetically):

  • Australia: The Australian Government committed an initial AUD 10 million (USD 7.7 million) to the relief effort, to be distributed to international aid organisations. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says funding will be reviewed once details of needs become clearer. Subsequently funding was increased to AUD 35 million (USD 27 million), with more expected to be required later. Essential supplies were also immediately dispatched, to be delivered by the Royal Australian Air Force.
  • Brazil: Brazilian government sent 10 tons of food and 8 tons of medicines to Bangkok, Thailand, and 50 tons of potable water and food to Sri Lanka.
  • Canada: The Canadian government has pledged CAD 4 million (USD 3.3 million) as an immediate contribution toward the aid effort and will also be providing blankets, water purification devices, and generators through the Canadian International Development Agency. Subsequently the relief funding was increased by an additional CAD 36 million (USD 29.7 million). In addition to the already sent planeload of relief supplies sent to Sri Lanka another planeload will be dispatched to Indonesia. The Canadian government announced a reconnaisance mission for 12 members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team to assess the need for the team to be deployed.
    At the provincial level, the province of British Columbia pledged CAD 8 million (6.6 million USD) directly donated to the Red Cross. Ontario has pledged CAD 5 million (4.1 million USD) along with sending Dr. James Young-the outgoing provincial commissioner of emergency management. Dr. Young's expertise in DNA identification was used after the September 11, 2001 attacks and the September 2, 1998 Swissair 111 crash.
  • Chile: The Chilean government will send six young physicians to Sri Lanka and has opened a special bank account for public donations.
  • China: The Chinese government will send CNY 21.63 million (USD 2.6 million) to Southeast Asia.
  • Czech Republic: The Czech government will give aid worth EUR 328,000 (USD 0.5 million), in various forms.
  • Denmark: The Danish government will give aid worth EUR 1,35 million.
  • European Union: The EU is provided immediate emergency aid of EUR 3 million (USD 4.1 million) for victims to meet "initial vital needs", with more substantial aid bringing the total to USD 44 million.
  • Finland: EUR 575,000 (USD 0.8 million) and a field hospital will be sent from Finland to help the victims of the tsunamis.
  • France: France has sent a plane with 100 rescue personnel, as well as 800 kg (1,750 lb) of medical supplies.
  • Germany: The German government allocated EUR 1 million (USD 1.4 million) for immediate aid. According to information from the radio, units of the governmental technical relief organisation (THW) are going to be sent to Thailand and Sri Lanka for rescue purposes, together with drinking water purification equipment. (Raised to EUR 20 million) (7.1.2004: Raised to EUR 500 million)
  • Greece: Greece will allocate EUR 300,000 (USD 0.4 million) to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and two planes will carry to those countries over 6 tons of humanitarian materials.
  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS): In Geneva, the IFRCS appealed for CHF 7.5 million (about USD 6.6 million) for "immediate support" to an estimated 500,000 survivors.
  • Ireland: The Irish government pledges EUR 1 million (USD 1.4 million) in response to the earthquake-caused disaster in South Asia.[31]
  • Israel: Israel has sent baby food and medicines worth some USD 100,000 to the affected countries. In addition, an Israeli medical team was dispatched to Sri Lanka. An offer of assistance to India in the form of a search and rescue team as well as food and medicines has been extended. [32]
  • Japan: The Japanese government has allocated USD 500 million for relief efforts, the largest contribution by any single donor.
  • Kuwait: The Kuwaiti government has donated at KWD 500,000 (USD 1.7 million) as humanitarian aid.
  • Luxembourg has announced it will donate at least EUR 200,000 (USD 0.3 million) as humanitarian aid.
  • Médecins Sans Frontières: MSF is dispatching 32 tons of relief supplies to Sumatra; medical and assessment teams have been sent to many of the affected areas.
  • Mozambique: One of the poorest nations in the world has donated USD 100 000 to the relief efforts [33], saying that the "symbolic" amount was because the disaster reminded Mozambicans of their past troubles, and the help they received from the international community then.
  • Netherlands: The Dutch government has reserved EUR 2 million (USD 2.7 million) for aid to the affected area. The Dutch Red Cross has dedicated EUR 100,000 (USD 0.1 million) for emergency aid.
  • New Zealand: The New Zealand government announced it will donate NZD 500,000 (USD 0.4 million) to the Red Cross, and an airforce C-130 Hercules has been sent for evacuation and transport of relief supplies.
  • Norway: The Norwegian government has allocated NOK 1100 million (USD 180 million) to be distributed to the UN, the Red Cross and other aid organisations.
  • Pakistan: The government of Pakistan has announced a PKR 10 million (USD 0.2 million) relief package for the earthquake victims of Sri Lanka. This consists of goods such as tents, medicines, drinking water and food items. Additional aid has been promised.
  • Singapore: The Singaporean government has pledged SGD 500,000 (USD 0.3 million) to the Singapore Red Cross Society to help them start an appeal for public donations. A Singapore Armed Forces medical team is on standby to fly to Indonesia to help. Singapore is also dispatching an emergency consular team to Phuket and sending SGD 2 million (USD 1.2 million)of aid to the countries affected.
  • Spain: The Spanish government has allocated EUR 1 million (USD 1.4 million) to finance a first humanitarian shipment sent to the aid of the victims.
  • Sweden: SEK 7 million (USD 1.1 million) are being taken from the Swedish International Development Agency, 5 million of which are channeled through the ICRC. The Swedish Salvation Army has donated SEK 1 million (USD 0.8 million). The government is also supplying tents and blankets to Sri Lanka. Further assistance to be supplied if so requested, primarily by the UN.
  • Switzerland: The Swiss government has allocated CHF 1 million (USD 1.4 million). The Swiss have launched a national donation action Glückskette.
  • Taiwan: The Taiwanese government has donated USD 0.25 million to Indonesia, India, Thaliand, and Sri Lanka. A team of experts has also been dispatched to Indonesia to assess damages in preparation for humanitarian aid efforts.
  • Turkey: Hit in August and November 1999 by a series of earthquakes that killed over 20,000, Turkey has started collecting funds, hoping to reach at least EUR 170,000 (USD 0.2 million), which will be used in reconstruction projects.
  • United Kingdom: The British government has increased it's donation to $96 million. GBP 400,000 were given through the EU to the Red Cross and GBP 50,000 were donated to WHO, to help prevent maladies after the ocean surges. In addition, planes carrying essential equipment have been dispatched to some of the affected areas.
  • United States: The United States government has allocated USD 350 million for relief efforts and has dispatched disaster teams to aid the affected nations.

See also

Aid efforts

Video and Pictures of the devastation