The giant killer waves that smashed the coastal regions of South-East Asia have introduced a new word Tsumani as lexicon of disaster. The world owes its origin to Japan here it is used harbour waves and English language it was used to describe any powerful current. But on Sunday, the 26th of December, 2004 the world evidenced the power and ferocity of Tsumani when the coast lines of South and South-East Asia were hit wrecking houses and business establishments and destroying millions of lives. The wall of water that can challenge a jet plane in speed, rival a tall building in height and packed with force enough to destroy and smash hundreds of miles of coast line, Tsumani is a wave train or a series of waves generated in water body by some impulsive disturbance which displaces the water column vertically. Earthquakes, landside, volcanic eruptions, explosions and impacts of cosmic bodies such as meteorities may be the disturbing factor.
Tsumanis differ from wind generated waves and are characterised as shallow water waves with long period and wave length. The wind generated wave may have a period of 10 second and a wavelength of 150 meter whereas Tsumani can have a period 3600 second and a wavelength of more than 100 km. Tsumani not only propagate at high speed, they also travel great distances with nominal energy loss. As an instance the 1960 earthquake generated Chilian Tsumani traveled across the Pacific Ocean to hit Japan some 17000 km. away.
When the seafloor ocean bed abruptly deforms and displaces overlying water vertically, Tsumanis are generated. Tsumanis have a tendency to leave the deep waters and travel into shallower water near the coast. As the water depth near the coast decreases, the Tsumani slow down in speed and grow in height. Because of this shoaling effect these may grow even upto 30 meter height near the coast. When a Tsumani reaches the coast it may appear as a rapidly rising or falling tide, a series of breaking waves or even a bore. Tsumanis reach the coast with tremendous amount of energy with great erosional potential stripping beaches of sand, undermining trees and other coastal vegetation. These are capable of inundating or flooding hundreds of meters inland past the typical high water level crushing houses, buildings and other coastal structures.
Tsumanis of very high magnitude emanating from Sumatra island of Indonesia as a result of earthquake measuring 8.9 sped away from the epi-center at over 800 km per hour crashing into the region’s shore line without warning, sweeping people and fishing villages out into the sea. Millions lost their lives, millions were displaced from their houses and yet another millions are missing. Not one but two undersea earthquakes within hours of each other caused huge volumes of water to hurl at shores as for as far as 2000 km away from the epicenter. The toll of disaster is very difficult do estimate. It is stupefying nearly two million dead in South Asia, countries affected being Indonesia, Shri Lanka, India Thailand, Bangladesh and Myanmar. There can be no word on holidayers and fishermen across South Asia. With many inundated areas cut off from the mainland, number of causalities will be trickling in for quite some time.
Massive waves triggered by earthquakes crashed into the villages along a wide stroch of Shrilankean coast killing thousands of people and displacing millions more. The Government declared a state of disaster and appealed for international help. Tidal waves also hit the neighbouring island country of Maldives hitting capital Male, two thirds of which was under water. The disaster claimed nearly a million lives in Indonesia and Thailand. India suffered the loss of nearly 50,000 human lives. Nicobar Island and Campbell Bay were extensively damaged. This was complete breakdown of communication link.
More than ten thousand perished in tiny island of Andaman and Nicobar but port Blair escaped the uglier face of destruction. In Tamilnadu thousands of persons were killed and many more were missing. Areas hit by the disastrous waves include Chennai, coastal districts of Nagapattinam, Cuddalore and Kanyakumari. More than 500 tourists were stranded in rock memorial who were later rescued. In Andhra Pradesh hundreds of devotees taking a dip on the eve of Purnima were washed away and hundreds of fishermen were missing. Districts of Krishan, praksham, Shrikahulum, Nellore and West Godavari were the suffers. In Kerala also hundreds of people lost their lives .Coastal areas of West Bengal were also hit. Damage caused by the tidal waves in pondichary was also extensive.
This was the fifth largest earthquake in a century with a magnitude of 8.9. The strongest recorded earthquake was that of 22nd May, 1960 reading 9.5 on the Ritcher scale which had devastared chile. Earthquake of 20th March 1964 at Prince William Sound, Alaska measured 9.2 on Ritcher scale and that of 9th March, 1957 also striking Alaska was of the magnitude of 9.1. The fifth was the earthquake of November 4, 1952 in Kamchatka.
Relief operation to the victims is a great challenge and needs cooperation from one and all. Relief operations have been launched on a massive scale in the areas hit by tidal waves. The state Governments and the centre on the day following the episode engaged defence forces and air craft and ships to send relief material as also to rescue the persons entrapped in the disaster hit places Prime Minister Man Singh announced a relief of Rs. One lakh to the next of kin of each person killed from P.M. relief fund. Home Minister Siva Raj Patil and Tamilnadu Chief Minister Jail Lalita offererd all assistance including financial aid to the victims.
Tamilnadu Chief Minister announced an immediate package of Rs.30 crore for the survivors. Business houses, industrial units and Banking Institutions are coming forword for assistance in relief operations. Sportsmen, Players, Athletes, Film producers, cine artists and Media people all are of joining hands for raising relief funds. Karnataka Chief Minister N.Dharam singh has offered all assistance to the state of Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh and so have U.P. Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and Gujrat Chief Minister Narender Modi. Medical aid to the suffers is coming from abroad. International communities have also extended their hands of co-operation for the relief operations. Thus resources are not wanting but the problem is that the relief reaches the right persons at the right time in a right way.
There Indian Air Force A.N.32 Aircraft flew from Chennai and Bangalore Airports with emergency and medical supplies for Andaman and Nicobar Isalands. Although the runway of the aircraft was under water and electricity and telephone lines were all out of order yet Indian planes were taking flights for rescue operations day and night and surprisingly with the aid of kerosene lamps.
The European Union has offered Euro 3 millions (4 million dollars) as an emergency aid to help the victims. U.S. President Bill Clinton announced aid to the extent of thirtyfive thousand crore dollars. Russia has also announced that it would take part in international relief efforts. Two Russian transport planes carrying tents and other rescue materials landed in the region in no time. Medical aid on a massive scale is yet another problem and doctors are working day and night to look after the survivors. The union Health Ministry has deputed two emergency medical relief teams for Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Pondichery to provide medical assistance to the people affected by tidal waves. Meanwhile an emergency control room has also been set up in Delhi. Crisis management Group met in Delhi to review relief operations being very keenly supervised.
The Tsunami which ravaged South Asia gave a clear warning that no coast line in the world can be said to be safe from these destructive waves. Traditionally the pacific region was supposed to be prone to Tsunami where depth of the sea-bed goes to the extent of 70 km. but here in South East Asia it is just 30 km. The United States of America have taken a lead in creating a pacific Tsunami warning centre alongwith 26 other countries of the region. The centre provides real time alerts for anything that unduly stirs up the sea. Vulnerable regions like Chile, Japan and Hawaii have regular evacuation drills to combat the gaint waves as they roll in on 26th of December there was a two hour gap in which people of vulnerable areas could have warned but they were not as no warning system existed.
The authorities should now think and plan establishment of an advance monitoring and early warning system for such disasters. India should co-operate with other countries to set up an early warning system for the region. It can also integrate the system with the cyclone warning system which has been quite effective in saving lives. Sea-bed sensors can send Tsunami warnings via satellites and trigger alarms within minutes. This alongwith providing training and equipment to the coastal population could well spell out the difference between safety and devastation or to be more precise between life and death.