The December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was caused by an earthquake that is thought to have had the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs.
The epicenter of the 9.0 magnitude quake was under the Indian Ocean near the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
The violent movement of sections of the Earth’s crusts known as tectonic plates displaced an enormous amount of water, sending powerful shock waves in every direction.
The tectonic plates in this area had been pushing against each other, building pressure for thousands of years – they continue to do so and will likely cause underwater earthquakes and tsunamis in the future.
The shifting of the earth’s plates in the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004 caused a rupture more than 600 miles long, displacing the seafloor above the rupture by perhaps 10 yards horizontally and several yards vertically. As a result, trillions of tons of rock were moved along hundreds of miles and caused the planet to shudder with the largest magnitude earthquake in 40 years.
Within hours of the earthquake, killer waves radiating from the epicenter slammed into the coastline of 11 Indian Ocean countries, damaging countries from east Africa to Thailand.
A tsunami is a series of waves, and the first wave may not be the most dangerous. A tsunami “wave train” may come as surges five minutes to an hour apart. The cycle may be marked by the repeated retreat and advance of the ocean.
Despite a lag of up to several hours between the earthquake and the impact of the tsunami, nearly all of the victims were taken completely by surprise because there were no tsunami warning systems in the Indian Ocean to detect tsunamis or to warn the general populace living around the ocean.
The Indian Ocean tsunami traveled as far as 3,000 miles to Africa and still arrived with sufficient force to kill people and destroy property.
Many people in Indonesian reported that they saw animals fleeing for high ground minutes before the tsunami arrived – very few animal bodies were found afterward.
The earthquake-induced tsunami resulted in at least 155,000 fatalities, 500,000 injuries, and damages that exceeded $10 billion. Also, it is estimated that 5 million people lost their homes or access to food and water.