Looking Back, 2004 Asian Tsunami

Banda Aceh Travel Blog

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Christmas, 2004 - I was at my computer, safe, warm at my Kansas home when the following initial report came across local television as a closing news story. It had little impact on me at the moment, knowing the frequency of SE Asian quakes and how so often, they're quickly forgotten. I write this to share the contrast between that initial report and what would soon be confirmed as the worst natural disaster of our time, tragically taking more than 250,000 lives. I later wondered, if there was a Roman news media way back in 79AD, how an initial report from Pompeii might have have sounded to the rest of the world?

"A powerful earthquake rocked northern Indonesia on Saturday night, and radio reports said nine people were killed as some buildings collapsed and waves flooded some coastal areas.

The U.S. Geological Survey said a magnitude-8.5 quake, capable of massive damage, struck at 8 a.m. local time about 100 miles off the west coast of Sumatra. The survey said it upgraded its initial report of 8.1 following further analysis. But Indonesian seismologists put the magnitude at 6.4 and there was no way to immediately clarify the discrepancy.

Dr. David Schwartz with the U.S. Geological Survey told KCBS that although the quake was large, big tremblors in Indonesia are not uncommon. Although it was centered off-shore, the earthquake was large enough to cause significant damage.

"This year in 2004 there have been 14 earthquakes of magnitude seven or larger around the world," Schwartz said. "This is actually the largest earthquake that we've had in the world this year."

Witnesses told Jakarta's el-Shinta radio station that nine people were killed in the northernmost province of Aceh, and several shops and small buildings had collapsed. But telephone and most communication links to the region were out and there was no immediate way to confirm the casualty and damage reports.

"The ground was shaking for a long time,'' resident Yayan Zamzani told the station. "It must be the strongest earthquake in the last 15 years.''

Residents in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, 1,000 miles northwest of Jakarta, and others in Lhokseumawe, a city about 125 miles to the southeast, told the radio station that waves had hit some coastal regions.

An Associated Press reporter in Lhokseumawe said several houses had been damaged and that water levels on main streets in the town had reached three feet. At least one house had been swept away and residents were fleeing to higher ground, he said.

Indonesia, a country of 17,000 islands, is prone to seismic upheaval because of its location on the margins of tectonic plates that make up the so-called the ``Ring of Fire'' around the Pacific Ocean basin.

The quake was also felt in neighboring Thailand and Malaysia. No major damage was reported in those two countries.

The quake struck just three days after an 8.1 quake struck the ocean floor between Australia and Antarctica, causing buildings to shake hundreds of miles away but no serious damage or injury.

Quakes reaching a magnitude 8 are very rare. A quake registering magnitude 8 rocked Japan's northern island of Hokkaido on Sept. 25, 2003, injuring nearly 600 people. An 8.4 magnitude tremor that stuck off the coast of Peru on June 23, 2001, killed 74." END

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Banda Aceh
photo by: rintjez