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The Indian Ocean Tsunami

Updated on May 22, 2009

Year 2004.We had a great Christmas! The next morning, Dec 26th, being a Sunday, we were all just lazing around. We felt the ground shake a bit beneath us. Before we could realize, it was over! We relaxed. It was 6.30 am. The city was calm and basking in the aftermath of Christmas parties and celebrations of the previous day. The beach was filled with morning walkers, children playing cricket and ball and people just frolicking about. At about 7.30 am, we heard that a massive earthquake had struck ‘somewhere nearby’ and that we had felt the tremors of that high-intensity earthquake in Chennai, the east coastal city of South India. Being a holiday weekend, many had taken off to the beach resorts along the eastern coast as well.

Then,around 9 am, TV channels started announcing that water had entered the city, the Cathedral and all the buildings on the seashore! No one knew what was happening.The initial reports were not all that alarming. Then, it all started! The first news - 2 children hit by waves had died. In the course of the day, the total tally of 2 killed turned to 200 at the Chennai beach. Before noon we were informed that a Tsunami had struck! The death toll was rising steadily.The epicenter of the 9.3 magnitude earthquake, was 30 km deep in the Indian Ocean near the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Within hours,killer waves radiating from the epicenter crashed into the coastline of 11 Indian Ocean countries.Indonesia (mainly in Aceh) ,Thailand, Andaman and Nicobar island, Maldives, bore the brunt of the tsunami while Sri Lanka and the southeast coast of India suffered huge causalities. Nicobar Island which holds the Indian Air Force station, from where India monitors the region was nearly wiped out. The east coast of South India near Chennai also has a nuclear power plant, that had to be shut down because of the tidal surges.

Ariel view of the Chennai beach after the Tsunami

People in this part, had never experienced nor heard much about Tsunamis. So much so, when the water receded for about 1-2 kilometer, people were mesmerized at the phenomena and ran into the sea bed to collect shells and starfish. Excited people with a sense of adventure rushed on their motorbikes on to the sea bed as well. After receding for 1-2 kilometers, the water rose and huge waves about 30 feet high rushed back with a velocity speed of nearly 500 to 800 nautical kilometres an hour and slammed on the shore, swallowing everyone in its path while going back.

News started trickling in about how the morning walkers, revelers, children playing on the beach, many people on holiday at the beach resorts were all gone! Many fishing villages along the coast of Tamil Nadu were wiped out without a trace as well.The news of the human tragedy was overwhelming!

Velankanni Church

Further down south, in a small coastal village, Velankanni, lies the famous pilgrim church of Mother Mary known as Our lady of Good Health or ‘Our Lady of Velankanni’ .This shrine draws around 20 million pilgrims annually from all over the country irrespective of their religion and creed. Since Dec 26th was a Sunday and the day after Christmas, there was a huge crowd at the church and at the beach near the church. When the tsunami struck, the killer waves entered the church and a large number of people were washed away by the waves along with everyone on the beach... Human tragedy knew no bounds.The shrine reportedly remained untouched.

By next day the enormity of the human tragedy along the path of this killer tsunami became clear and it was indeed heart rending.

The lone person,the boat and the killer waves

Seconds later,this photographer was also killed but his camera was in tact.
Seconds later,this photographer was also killed but his camera was in tact.

At Chennai beach after the Tsunami

Unfortunately, the causalities were so high, because there was no tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean basin like the one in the Pacific ocean.None of the countries most severely affected, including India, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, had a tsunami warning mechanism or tidal gauges to alert people .While earthquakes cannot be predicted in advance, it was possible to give about 3 hours of notice of a potential Tsunami once the earthquake was detected it. Coastal dwellers were not educated to get to high ground quickly following tremors and waves. Most shoreline structures were not built to withstand the force of a tsunami and many people on the shores did not recognize or understand the warnings nature provided.Early warning is the only method of disaster risk management, disaster preparedness and vulnerability reduction.

It is believed that within 15 minutes of the earthquake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii had sent an alert to 26 countries, including Thailand and Indonesia, but they were unable to contact the right people. Television and radio alerts were announced in Thailand only at 9am local time ,nearly after an hour the killer waves had struck.

The total energy of the tsunami waves was said to be about five megatons of TNT (20 petajoules) and it traveled as much as 3,000 miles (nearly 5,000 kilometers) all the way to Africa. The Indian Ocean Tsunami claimed 225,000 people in eleven countries, devouring people, drowning countless in their homes or on beaches and demolishing property. It was indeed the deadliest tsunamis by far in all of recorded history!


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    • profile image

      Kate 3 years ago

      New. Madrid. Fault. Line. Earthquake. 1811-1812

    • profile image

      5 years ago

      it was terific

    • profile image

      Jesuslove. 5 years ago

      It was a sad occurrence. Painful to many. I like the way you put it in written word. Blessings

    • how-to-make profile image

      how-to-make 5 years ago from India

      You have again reminded me of that horrible time. It was really a hard time for India and especially for south. Nice hub and the information as well.

    • JasonPLittleton profile image

      JasonPLittleton 6 years ago

      Fantastic hub. You've collected nice shots of the events.

    • petermdhart profile image

      petermdhart 7 years ago from Cornwall, UK

      Great hub on one of the worst recent Tsunami's - very thorough, thank you.

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 8 years ago from Guwahati, India

      A good coverage of Tsunami in India. Thanks.

    • Laila Rajaratnam profile image

      Laila Rajaratnam 8 years ago from India

      @ Barbara and spicegal..yes it was terrible!Thanks for the read.

    • neysajasper profile image

      neysajasper 8 years ago

      nice hub thanks for refreshing our memories. It was a great natural disaster.

    • Laila Rajaratnam profile image

      Laila Rajaratnam 8 years ago from India

      Londongirl,Princessa and Charia..yes it was and is still scary!Yes,so many human lives could have been saved by timely warning!

    • spicegal profile image

      spicegal 8 years ago from india

      hope our new tsunami warning systems r effective..

    • Barbara Yurkoski profile image

      Barbara Yurkoski 8 years ago

      Awful to think that so many deaths could have been prevented and those who survived the first wave could have been warned not to explore.

      Nature's forces are awesome. Good hub!

    • Charia Samher profile image

      Charia Samher 8 years ago

      It must have been frightening and very heartrending at the same time especially it happened during the time where everybody is supposed to have a nice holiday.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 8 years ago from France

      That was a terrible tragedy, it is scary to think about the forces of nature and it makes you angry to think that the autorities got a warning but they were not quick or organized enough to prevent a major human tragedy.

    • Laila Rajaratnam profile image

      Laila Rajaratnam 8 years ago from India

      @Hilltrecker..Sanju..thanks.Will try to come on to FB soon.Was sort of busy.:)

      @Jayb..yes..we can never forget this great tragedy.

      @Anju..thanks for stopping was such a nigtmare!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      It was such a horrifying, scary event, this was very well written.

    • anjalichugh profile image

      anjalichugh 8 years ago from New York

      Hi Laila: The day Tsunami hit, we were on our way to Tirupathi Balaji. I can never forget that day. Heard a co passenger break the news and we were horrified. We were not sure if could make it to the Temple ...but we did. We were supposed to fly from Delhi to Madras but incidentally we had changed the itinerary from Delhi to Bangalore instead of Madras. His ways are strange!

      The memories of that tragic incident is still fresh in our minds. I don't think people can ever forget the disaster that played havoc with lives and property.

    • Laila Rajaratnam profile image

      Laila Rajaratnam 8 years ago from India

      Diana..thanks for stopping was indeed horrific!

    • jayb23 profile image

      jayb23 8 years ago from India

      That was indeed one of the worst days for man kind. I just pray that such a thing never repeats itself.

    • hilltrekker profile image

      hilltrekker 8 years ago

      Hi Laila, this hub reminded me of that terrible happening. When nature goes angry, man-made developments seem to be insufficient. missing u on FB.

    • dianacharles profile image

      dianacharles 8 years ago from India

      yes Laila that was a real black day in Indian history. I still remember my Mum was to travel that day, but railway tracks had been washed away. In Goa, the sea levels rose and entered the beach shacks....we lost friends posted on the A and N islands. A horrible tragedy.