Tidal Waves Kill Thousands in Asia
A gargantuan earthquake centered off the west coast of Indonesia unleashed a series of tidal waves Sunday morning that crashed into coastal towns, fishing villages and tourist resorts from India and Sri Lanka to Thailand and Malaysia, killing at least 3,000 people and leaving many more missing.
The U.S. Geological Survey measured the earthquake at 8.9 on the Richter scale, making it the fifth strongest since 1900. It was the largest since 1964, when Alaska was jolted by a quake measuring 9.2.
The initial quake struck the western tip of Indonesia’ Sumatra island shortly after 7 a.m. local time, flattening buildings and sending a wall of water about five yards high into the cities and towns of Aceh province, according to witnesses reached by telephone.
Tragic. The combination of natural disaster, an island location, poverty, and government corruption is deadly. Even this level of earthquake would have inflicted substantially less property damage and loss of life in a developed area with proper construction.
Update (1530): Television reports have the total dead exceeding 11,000. Several Americans are among their number.
The biggest humanitarian relief operation ever mounted was underway along Asia’s devastated shores as the death toll from a massive earthquake and the tidal waves it unleashed was predicted to hit 45,000. With the scale of the catastrophe still unfolding the confirmed death toll passed 27,000 in nine countries — but Indonesia warned that it alone could have suffered up to 20,000 more fatalities on top of its official figure of 4,725 deaths. Indonesia’s Vice President Yusuf Kalla, who is in charge of coordinating relief efforts, said he estimated that “21,000 to 25,000 people” had been killed in Sunday’s disaster.
The quake, the biggest in 40 years at 9.0 on the Richter scale, ruptured the Indian Ocean seabed off Indonesia’s Sumatra island, sending huge waves thousands of kilometres (miles) to kill and destroy in countries around southern and southeast Asia and even in Africa.
Mass funerals were taking place amid scenes of traumatic grief as bodies lay rotting along coastlines throughout the region, lending weight to fears that outbreaks of disease could unleash a second wave of tragedy on a region struggling to cope with the first. “The people should be buried and the animals should be destroyed and disposed of before they infect the drinking water. It’s a massive operation,” said UN disaster relief coordinator Jan Egeland.
Gruesome scenes met emergency teams in the worst hit countries of Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and Thailand, while the death tolls ticked up even in the less affected areas of Malaysia, the Maldives and Myanmar.
Horrific. This could be the equivalent of fifteen 9/11 attacks. Or the American death toll in the Korean War.
Update: The estimates, already mindboggling, keep increasing. Michael J. Totten observes that they’re approaching U.S. casualties in Vietnam–which were over 58,000.