It was early morning of December 26, 2004, the day after Merry Christmas. When the sea parted off the coast of Indonesia, the raging water roared with a medieval echo. Rising from the floor of the ocean in gigantic waves, it robbed nations of their land, families of their loved ones and towns of their identity. The world was left shaken. The Sumatra earthquake that recorded 9 on the Richter scale had triggered a tsunami that lashed across the coast of 13 nations.
About 200,000 people lost their lives across south Asia and south-east Asia, along the coastline of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. According to the WHO up to five million people had been displaced by the devastating tsunami. The worst affected country was Indonesia. About 100,000 people lost their life in Indonesia itself. Emergency workers who reached the northern tip of Sumatra Island (Indonesia) found that 10,000 had been killed in a single town, Meulaboh.
In Sri Lanka— some 1,600 km west of the epicenter— about 50,000 people were killed, and one million people were affected. In Thailand, more than ten thousands were killed. Malaysia, also, lost couple of thousands of her natives.
In India the worst affected areas were Tamil Nadu, Andaman & Nicobar and islands and Pondicherry. About 10,000 people were killed in India. Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu and Car Nicobar in Andaman&Nicobar Islands were the worst affected areas here.
In terms of monetary loss, the tsunami disaster more than of several billion dollars had caused the loss in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
According to industry estimate, losses in Andaman & Nicobar Islands alone will exceed Rs 1,000 crore, while another Rs 800 crore is estimated to be lost in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
The earthquake that unleashed deadly tidal waves in Asia on Sunday was so powerful that it made the earth wobble on its axis and permanently altered the regional map. The 9.0 magnitude trembler that struck 250 km south-east of Sumatra island may have moved small islands as much as 20 metres, according to some experts.
Tsunami few had heard of it before last Sunday of 2004 when what is turning out ot be the worlds biggest disaster in living memory hit south and south-east Asia. A tsunami is normally fallout I an earthquake as massive as the one that accrued on December 26 results in sudden caving or rising of the ocean floor. And the ocean alash in the ocean floor sets off the tsunami.
In the December 26 quake, the seismic fault lines ran north to south beneath the ocean floor off sumatres, while the tsunami waves shot out west and eastward. Although Indonesia was closed to the earthquake's epicentre, Sri Lanka was also badly hit. This because of the earthquake's mechanism and the fact that Sri Lanka was in the direct path of the generated waves. So was the Andamans archipelago with its chain of 572 islands, of which 38 are inhabited. It is these islands that bore the burst of the Tsunami
It is said in the hour of crisis the whole world unites. People all over the world are donating generously for the tsunami relief fund. The United Nations has started the biggest ever relief operations in the tsunami affected areas. Mass funerals were taking place amid scenes of traumatic grief as bodies lay rotting along coastlines throughout the region to a point where identification was no longer possible. The respective government has been employing their armies, voluntary workers to carry out the massive relief operations.
It is heard to come to terms with the fury of nature. A lot of historians believe that the gods were invented by early man as a release for his inability to explain nature's vagaries and things they could not understand. Earthquakes, cyclones, tsunami, landslides, floods, disease— all point to the overwhelming superiority of the
power nature has, and man can at best be a helpless bystander. Nature has its own undeciphered way of maintaining a balance too.
The December 26 tsunami tragedy is perhaps the worst natural disaster to have occurred in the living memory. However, there are some crucial lessens to be learnt from it. Had any of the Indian ocean nations have been members of the Tsunami Warning System, (The Pacific Tsunami warning System, set up in Hawaii in 1965, has almost mastered the art of forecasting the destructive waves.) they would have got the advisory and India would have had at least three hours before the tsunami actually truck its coast to order evacuation or signal people to safety.
Our science and technology establishment have to be freed from shackles of excessive bureaucratisation. The last we owe to those who have shuttered is to create an infrastructure that protects life and property from the damage likely to be caused not only by natural, but man-made disasters as well.