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Tsunamis in Asia

The rolling disaster started with a massive, magnitude–nine undersea earthquake off Indonesia, triggering monstrous walls of water.

Sri Lanka took the deadliest hit with at least 12,000 killed there and thousands more perishing in India, Thailand and Indonesia.

At least eight Americans died and hundreds are unaccounted for. All along the coast, from Asia to Africa, it's a sight of devastation and despair.

Millions of people left homeless by the tsunami are now in desperate need of shelter, clothing, and clean water. Relief efforts have begun pouring in, but so far they've only scratched the surface of what could be the costliest disaster on record.

Jan Egeland, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator said, "The cost of the devastation will be in the billions of dollars...probably many billions of dollars."

The numbers are staggering: more than 12,000 people killed in Sri Lanka, some 5,000 in Indonesia, and 4,000 in India. Red Cross officials estimate more than 23,000 deaths in the region overall, but thousands are still missing, and bodies continue to wash ashore.

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the island of Sumatra early Sunday, and unleashed deadly tidal waves. Tourists from around the world, vacationing in Thailand and Sri Lanka, found themselves trapped by the fast–moving water. Scores of travelers did not survive.

One witness said, "All we heard was this almighty bang and the next thing the place was flooded. It was up to there."

U.S. officials are still trying to contact hundreds of Americans who remain unaccounted for in the region. They're also sending at least $15 million in immediate aide.

Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State said, "This is indeed an international tragedy, and we're going to do everything we can to assist the nations that have been affected in dealing with this tragedy."

President Bush has sent written condolences to the leaders of nations recovering from the tragedy, as the U.S. now takes the lead in the relief operation.

Extended Web Coverage

  • View Quick Time Animation of Indonesia Tsunami – Click Here
  • Images of Past Tsunamis – Click Here

    Read below for Tsunami FAQ's, Safety Tips, and Did You Know Facts

    Tsunamis: Frequently Asked Questions

    Q: What Is a Tsunami?
    A: A tsunami (pronounced “soo-nah-mee”) is a series of waves of extremely long wave length and long period generated in a body of water by an impulsive disturbance that vertically displaces the water. The term tsunami was adopted for general use in 1963 by an international scientific conference. Tsunami is a Japanese word represented by two characters: "tsu" and "nami." The character "tsu" means harbor, and the character "nami" means wave. In the past, tsunamis were often referred to as "tidal waves." The term "tidal wave" is a misnomer. Tides are the result of gravitational influences of the moon, sun, and planets. Tsunamis are not caused by the tides and are unrelated to the tides; although a tsunami striking a coastal area is influenced by the tide level at the time of impact.

    Q: What Causes a Tsunami?
    A: There are many causes of tsunamis but the most prevalent is earthquakes. In addition, landslides, volcanic eruptions, explosions, and even the impact of cosmic bodies, such as meteorites, can generate tsunamis.

    Q: How Do Earthquakes Generate Tsunamis?
    A: Tsunamis can be generated when the sea floor abruptly shifts and vertically displaces the overlying water from its equilibrium position. Waves are formed as the displaced water mass attempts to regain its equilibrium. The main factor which determines the initial size of a tsunami is the amount of vertical sea floor deformation. Not all earthquakes generate tsunamis. To generate tsunamis, earthquakes must occur underneath or near the ocean, be large and create movements in the sea floor. All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Pacific Ocean there is a much more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along the margins of the Pacific Ocean.

    Q: How Do Landslides, Volcanic Eruptions, and Cosmic Collisions Generate Tsunamis?
    A: Any disturbance that displaces a large water mass from its equilibrium position can generate a tsunami. Generally tsunamis caused by landslides or volcanic eruptions dissipate more quickly than Pacific-wide tsunamis caused by some earthquakes and rarely affect coastlines distant from the source.

    Q: How Do Tsunamis Differ From Other Water Waves?
    A: Tsunami waves are shallow-water waves with long periods and wave lengths. (A wave is classified a shallow-water wave when the ratio between the water depth and its wavelength gets very small. The speed of a shallow-water wave is equal to the square root of the product of the acceleration of gravity (32ft/sec/sec or 980cm/sec/sec) and the depth of the water.) Shallow water waves are different from wind-generated waves (the waves many of us have observed on the beach). Wind-generated waves usually have period (time between two succesional waves) of five to twenty seconds and a wavelength (distance between two successional waves) of about 50 to 600 feet (15 to 200 meters) A tsunami can have a period in the range of 10 minutes to 1 hour and a wavelength in excess of 700 km (430 miles).

    Q: What Happens to a Tsunami as it Approaches the Shore?
    A: "As the tsunami wave reaches the shallower water above a continental shelf, friction with the shelf slows the front of the wave. As the tsunami approaches shore, the trailing waves pile onto the waves in front of them, like a rug crumpled against a wall creating a wave that may rise up to 30 feet before hitting the shore. Although greatly slowed, a tsunami still bursts onto land at freeway speeds, with enough momentum to flatten buildings and trees and to carry ships miles inland." (From: Waves of Destruction by Tim Folger, Discover Magazine, May 1994, pp. 69-70)

    Q: What Are the Impacts of a Tsunami?
    A: Tsunamis can savagely attack coastlines, causing devastating property damage and loss of life.

    Q: Are Tsunamis All the Same?
    A: No. U.S. coastal communities are threatened by tsunamis that are generated by both local earthquakes and distant earthquakes. Local tsunamis give residents only a few minutes to seek safety. Tsunamis of distant origins give residents more time to evacuate threatened coastal areas but increase the need for timely and accurate assessment of the tsunami hazard to avoid costly false alarms. Thus, U.S. residents in Alaska can experience a local earthquake and tsunami while residents of Hawaii and the west coast may experience this disaster as a distant tsunami. Similarly, west coast residents can experience a local tsunami that may also have an impact on the distant states of Alaska and Hawaii. Of the two, local tsunamis are more devastating.

    Q: Can Tsunamis Be Predicted?
    A: Since science cannot predict when earthquakes will occur, they cannot determine exactly when a tsunami will be generated. But with the aid of historical records of tsunamis and numerical models, scientists can get an idea where tsunamis are most likely to be generated.

    Tsunami Safety Tips

    • A strong earthquake felt in a low-lying coastal area is a natural warning of possible, immediate danger. Keep calm and quickly move to higher ground away from the coast.
    • All large earthquakes do not cause tsunamis, but many do. If the quake is located near or directly under the ocean, the probability of a tsunami increases. When you hear that an earthquake has occurred in the ocean or coastline regions, prepare for a tsunami emergency.
    • Tsunamis can occur at any time, day or night. They can travel up rivers and streams that lead to the ocean.
    • A tsunami is not a single wave, but a series of waves. Stay out of danger until an "ALL CLEAR" is issued by a competent authority. Approaching tsunamis are sometimes heralded by noticeable rise or fall of coastal waters. This is nature's tsunami warning and should be heeded.
    • Approaching large tsunamis are usually accompanied by a loud roar that sounds like a train or aircraft. If a tsunami arrives at night when you can not see the ocean, this is also nature's tsunami warning and should be heeded.
    • A small tsunami at one beach can be a giant a few miles away. Do not let modest size of one make you lose respect for all.
    • Sooner or later, tsunamis visit every coastline in the Pacific. All tsunamis - like hurricanes - are potentially dangerous even though they may not damage every coastline they strike.
    • Never go down to the beach to watch for a tsunami! WHEN YOU CAN SEE THE WAVE YOU ARE TOO CLOSE TO ESCAPE. Tsunamis can move faster than a person can run!
    • During a tsunami emergency, your local emergency management office, police, fire and other emergency organizations will try to save your life. Give them your fullest cooperation.
    • Homes and other buildings located in low lying coastal areas are not safe. Do NOT stay in such buildings if there is a tsunami warning.
    • The upper floors of high, multi-story, reinforced concrete hotels can provide refuge if there is no time to quickly move inland or to higher ground.
    • If you are on a boat or ship and there is time, move your vessel to deeper water (at least 100 fathoms). If it is the case that there is concurrent severe weather, it may may safer to leave the boat at the pier and physically move to higher ground.
    • Damaging wave activity and unpredictable currents can effect harbor conditions for a period of time after the tsunami's initial impact. Be sure conditions are safe before you return your boat or ship to the harbor.
    • Stay tuned to your local radio, marine radio, NOAA Weather Radio, or television stations during a tsunami emergency - bulletins issued through your local emergency management office and National Weather Service offices can save your life.

    Did You Know?

    • In 1964, an Alaskan earthquake generated a tsunami with waves between 10 and 20 feet high along parts of the California, Oregon, and Washington coasts. This tsunami caused more than $84 million in damage in Alaska and a total of 123 fatalities.
    • Although tsunamis are rare along the Atlantic coastline, a severe earthquake on November 18, 1929, in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland generated a tsunami that caused considerable damage and loss of life at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.
    • In 1946, a tsunami with waves of 20 to 32 feet crashed into Hilo, Hawaii, flooding the downtown area and killing 159 people.
    • The Tsunami Warning Centers in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Palmer, Alaska, monitor disturbances that trigger tsunamis. When a tsunami is recorded, it is tracked and a tsunami warning is issued to the threatened area.
    • Most deaths during a tsunami are a result of drowning. Associated risks include flooding, polluted water supplies, and damaged gas lines.
    • Since 1945, more people have been killed as a result of tsunamis than as a direct result of an earthquake’s ground-shaking.

    Source: http://www.noaa.gov (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site) contributed to this report.


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