Information Folder-Tsunami in South Asia 2004

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Information Folder—Tsunami in South Asia 2004



The incident of South Asia Tsunami 2004---------------------------------------------2

What is “tsunami”? -----------------------------------------------------------------------3
Causes of South Asia Tsunami-----------------------------------------------------------11
Impact of South Asia Tsunami ---------------------------------------------------------15
Measures to alleviate the impact of tsunami------------------------------------------18

The information of the Indonesian Earthquake in 2004



26 December 2004 (Tuesday)



00:58:55(the local time of Jakarta and Bangkok is UTC+7)



3.19° N, 95.51° E



North of Sumatra, Indonesia






30 kilometers under seabed

Regions affected


Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Africa



About three hundred thousand people died and over five hundred and ten thousand injured

Difference between tsunami wave and wind-generated wave

Characteristic of wave

Wind-generated Wave

Tsunami Wave

Speed of wave

5-60 miles/hour

(8-100 km/h)

500-600 miles/hour

(800-1,000 km/h)

Wave Time

(Time required for two waves to pass a single point in space)

5 to 20 seconds

10 minutes to 2 hours

Wave Length

(Horizontal distance between two waves)

100-200 meters

100-500 kilometers

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Tsunami Intensity Scale



Damage to building

On human

On vessels and shore

I. Not felt

not felt even under the most favorable circumstances.

No effect

No damage

II. Scarcely felt

Felt by few people onboard small vessels. Not observed on the coast.

No effect

No damage

III. Weak

Felt by most people onboard small vessels. Observed by few people on the coast.

No effect

No damage

IV. Largely observed

Felt by all onboard small vessels and by few people onboard large vessels. Observed by most people on the coast.

Few small vessels move slightly onshore.

No damage

V. Strong

Felt by all onboard large vessels and observed by all on the coast. Few people are frightened and run to higher ground.

Many small vessels move strongly onshore, few of them crash into each other or overturn. Traces of sand layer are left behind on ground with favourable conditions. Limited flooding of cultivated land.

Limited flooding of outdoor facilities (e.g. gardens) of near-shore structures.

VI. Slightly damaging

Many people are frightened and run to higher ground.

Most small vessels move violently onshore, crash strongly into each other, or overturn.

Damage and flooding in a few wooden structures. Most masonry buildings withstand.

VII. Damaging

Most people are frightened and try to run to higher ground.

Many small vessels damaged. Few large vessels oscillate violently. Objects of variable size and stability overturn and drift. Sand layer and accumulations of pebbles are left behind. Few aquaculture rafts washed away.

Many wooden structures damaged, few are demolished or washed away. Damage of grade 1 and flooding in a few masonry damaging.

VIII. Heavily damaging

All people escape to higher ground, a few are washed away.

Most of the small vessels are damaged, many are washed away. Few large vessels are moved ashore or crash into each other. Big objects are drifted away. Erosion and littering in the beach. Extensive flooding. Slight damage in tsunami control forest, stop drifts. Many aquaculture rafts washed away, few partially damaged.

Most wooden structures are washed away or demolished. Damage of grade 2 in a few masonry buildings. Most reinforced concrete buildings sustain damage, in a few damage of grade 1 and flooding is observed.

IX. Destructive

Many people are washed away.

Most large vessels are destroyed or washed away. Many large vessels are moved violently ashore, few are destroyed. Extensive erosion and littering of the beach. Local ground subsidence. Partial destruction in tsunami control forest, stop drifts. Most aquaculture rafts washed away, many partially damaged.

Damage of grade 3 in many masonry buildings, few reinforced concrete buildings suffer from damage grade 2.

X. Very destructive

General panic. Most people are washed away.

Most large vessels are moved violently ashore, many are destroyed or collide with buildings. Small boulders from the sea bottom are moved inland. Cars overturned and drifted. Oil spills, fires start. Extensive ground subsidence.

Damage of grade 4 in many masonry buildings, few reinforced concrete buildings suffer from damage grade 3. Artificial embankments collapse, port water breaks damaged.

XI. Devastating

Lifelines interrupted. Extensive fires. Water backwash drifts cars and other objects in the sea. Big boulders from sea bottom are moved inland.

Damage of grade 5 in many masonry buildings. Few reinforced concrete buildings suffer from damage grade 4, many suffer from damage grade 3.

XII. Completely devastating

Practically all masonry building demolished. Most reinforced-concrete buildings suffer from at least damage grade 3.

(Adapted from “Papadopoulos, G. A. and Imamura, F. (2001). A proposal for a new tsunami intensity scale”

Suggested websites about tsunami:

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC)

  • International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC)

1. Causes of South Asia Tsunami

Vertical displacement of seabed during earthquakes

South Asia Tsunami was caused by the collision of the Indo-Australian Plate and the Eurasian Plate, pushing down the oceanic crust and creating fault fracture at plate boundaries. The fracture extended from south to north and led to an earthquake with 9.1 in magnitude. The enormous energy deformed the seabed, resulting in the upsurge of waves which spread out rapidly in all directions. Tsunami was triggered.

Distribution of plates in South Asian region

Relationship between earthquake and tsunami

The process of tsunami triggered by the Indonesian Earthquake 2004

2. Causes of the disaster

a. Lack of Tsunami Early Warning System

According to Charles McCreery, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S.A., the South Asian region lacked a formal set of early warning system. After detecting the earthquake, they immediately informed the navy military of Australia and the United States, the embassies and the state councils of many countries but they could not pass this message to the citizens of South Asia, including India, Thailand and Sri Lanka. These countries did not establish a set of tsunami early warning system to remind their citizens to evacuate to those safe inland regions at that time.

b. Lack of evacuation guidelines and awareness

It’s rare to see huge tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Such tsunami only occurs once every seven hundred years. Thus, local citizens in South Asia were helpless because they lacked such evacuation drilling and awareness.

c. Destruction of ecological environment of coastal areas

Failure of environmental protection strategy indirectly led to this disaster. Owing to overdevelopment, destruction of the ecological environment of the coastal areas in Thailand made it the most severely hit county in this disaster. In order to develop tourism at Phuket, Thailand, mangrove trees at the coastal regions were removed for resort development. Many years ago, the ecological environment of Phi Phi Island was destroyed after the shooting of a movie on the island.
On the contrary, Bangladesh faced a continuous threat of cyclones ten years ago. After that disaster, the country replanted wind-breaks and restored the coastal ecology to enable its coastal areas to be protected by coral reefs and mangrove so as to reduce the loss caused by cyclones.

1. Human Impact

a. Casualties of different countries

No. in the figure


Number of death

Number of injured

Number of missing

Number of Refugees








Sri Lanka

































































South Africa















Source: Wikipedia

Countries severely hit by South Asia Tsunami

b. Social Impact

The major destruction of tsunami includes flooding, damage of coastal structures and erosion. The strong current may cause the collapse of buildings and the erosion of their foundation. The buoyancy and the shear of sea water can move buildings and automobiles. It’s very dangerous for drifting rubbles to hit each other. The retreat of tsunami waves may also erode the coastline.

c. Economic Impact

The tsunami had great impact on the economies of South Asian countries. Sri Lanka and Maldives were the countries most severely hit by the tsunami. Their tourism, fishery and infrastructure all required reconstruction. The government of Sri Lanka articulated that they needed 1.3 billion to repair the destroyed roads, railways and hotels in the east coast. The economy of Sri Lanka had just recovered after 20 years of civil war. The tsunami might pull down its economic growth. Besides, Maldives is the smallest country among these South Asian countries. Although there was no loss of human life, the country suffered heavy blows due to its low topography. Many luxury resorts had to be closed for renovation for months. Since tourism accounts for 50% of foreign exchange earnings of the country, it is estimated that its economic growth would be pulled down.

You may refer to the following website for details:


2. Environmental Impact:

You may browse the following website. It has more than 20 satellite photos showing the scenes of different places before and after the Tsunami. Observe the changes in the landscapes.

A. National measures

The tsunami early warning system can help the coastal residents to know the approaching of destructive tsunami and make appropriate preparation and reaction.

1. An effective tsunami early warning system should include the functions of:

  • identifying tsunami hazard and assessing the risk of the hazard, so as to reduce the impact of tsunami. Tsunami risk assessment maps can also be drawn to show the possible areas of flooding.

  • issuing timely warnings. For a distant tsunami, real time earthquake and sea level monitoring is important. The data can be used to confirm the occurrence of a destructive tsunami. The information collected can be disseminate immediately to the public. For a local tsunami, there may not be enough time for an official warning. Residents should respond according to their knowledge on tsunami.

  • continuous and sustained education on knowledge of tsunami. Education is a fundamental path to inform the public and next generations about tsunami. Government support and the development of related laws and regulations are important.

Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami System

This system uses sea buoys and inductors for assessment. The two-way communication system allows the Tsunami Warning Centre to set up numerous observation stations. Data is collected every 15 seconds and the occurrence of tsunami is analyzed every hour. Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami System transmits standard data, including the measurement of sea-level every 15 seconds in a 6-hour interval. The two-way communication system includes functions of real-time troubleshooting and diagnosis.

(Not in scale)

Besides, the early warning system should also include the planning of evacuation routes, evacuation drilling and public education related to the hazard.
2. Planting mangrove

The representative of the World Wide Fund pointed out that mangrove and coral reefs can alleviate the impact of tsunami wave. Mangrove is a kind of dense low trees growing at tropical coasts. It has a dense system of roots to bind the soil together and protect the coasts from destructive waves. It was proved that tsunami had less impact on areas with mangrove in 2004. Marriott Hotel in Phuket, Thailand is built in areas of sea turtle hatchery, so it was constructed with strict environmental guidelines. The mangrove swamps were preserved well. The Hotel suffered less in the disaster when compared with other areas or hotels.

B. Individual actions

1. To know about the omen on the approach of tsunami

In coastal areas, tsunami will occur after a few minutes you felt the shocks of a big earthquake. Before the occurrence of tsunami, the sea level will move forward or backward very quickly. In most cases, the approaching tsunami will generate great noise, just like the sound of a moving train or a landing plane. This is especially the case at night.


When you find there are earthquakes or observe the exposure of seabed after the sudden retreat of seawater at beaches or coastal areas, you should:

  • Move to higher ground immediately.

  • Stop all water sports.

  • Small vessels in deep sea should avoid moving to the coasts or shallow water.

  • Do not surf when there is a tsunami!

  • Do not return to ports if your vessels are at sea because it is not easy to observe tsunami in big oceans. Tsunami can cause rapid changes in tidal levels and generate unpredictable, dangerous currents at ports and harbours.

  • If there is time, move your vessels to areas with sea level more than 400 m.

  • Keep in contact with the harbour management authorities.

Tsunamis generated in distant oceans will generally give people enough time to move to higher ground. For local tsunamis, you may only have a few minutes to move to higher ground when you feel there is ground shaking. Don’t wait for tsunami warning to take action.

. To understand the Tsunami Safety Regulations

If you are interested to learn more about earthquake and tsunami, take a look on the following websites.
BBC “Asia quake disaster – in depth”

BBC Asia Earthquake Disaster

BBC “Tsunami among world's worst disasters”

CNN “Waves of Destruction”

ABC News Tsunami page

Guardian Unlimited – Special Report,15671,1380306,00.html

Earth Observatory – Natural Hazards

BBC animated guide

BBC “How the quake unfolded”

AIST animation

Discovery Channel animation of Indonesian tsunami

PBS “Savage Earth – waves of destruction”

US Geological Survey

University of Southern California, Tsunami Research Group
PBS “Savage Earth – waves of destruction”

Pacific Tsunami Museum FAQ


National Geophysical Data Center tsunami slide sets
US Geological Survey

USGS “This Dynamic Earth”

University of Washington Tsunami Information Resource

Bishop Museum “Nature’s Fury”

Federal Emergency Management Agency “Tsunami for Kids”

Houghton Mifflin Maps

New York Times interactive map

UNOSAT satellite image maps

Peter Loud maps – Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia/Thailand

AsianMaya map of Indonesia

Thailand Travel Guide Map
Lonely Planet Thailand Map

Edinburgh Earthquake Catalogue

National Geophysical Data Center Natural Hazards – interactive map

Swiss Seismological Survey seismograms

USGS seismograms

USGS Earthquakes FAQ

USGS – Severity of an Earthquake

BBC “How earthquakes happen”

BBC “Natural Disasters”
Digital Brain KS4 Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics

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