Tidal wave toll now at 12,3oo

The Independent:

There was no warning. As the sun began to climb into a cloudless sky, the people of Banda Aceh were going about their lives in this city on the north-western tip of Sumatra, Indonesia. It was early morning when the first gigantic wall of water hit.

Those that heard the rumble of water rang the radio stations in panic. They had lived all their lives in the area, but they knew this earthquake was a bad one. "The ground was shaking for a long time," said Yayan Zamzani. "It must be the strongest earthquake in the past 15 years," he said. But it was worse. Much worse.

The people of Banda Aceh found themselves directly in the path of a massive tsunami, a vast sea wave caused by an earthquake underneath the ocean. Within moments they were fighting for their lives as the vast torrent of water surged through their homes. Many died instantly, others were swept out to sea. The quake, six miles beneath the seabed, was one of the worst in memory. It measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and was the fourth most powerful since 1900, with its epicentre under the seabed off Sumatra.

Within minutes hundreds of buildings had collapsed, shops and homes were swept away by a 30ft surge. Electricity supplies failed and the area's telephone network crashed. Thousands of people emerged from their homes and places of work in a state of panic. The word went out that they should get to higher ground. But still the sea rose.

A little way down the coast in Sigli the wave arrived moments later. The beach town has remained popular with foreign surfers despite the persistent Islamic insurgence which has rendered the region largely off-limits to tourists and threatened the Indonesian government's lucrative oil and gas fields there.

Witnesses reported the sea level was rising at a worryingly fast rate. Local officials feared that fresh water dams could burst as inland rivers began to surge.

Communications across the whole of the north-west of the largest of Indonesia's 17,000 islands began to fold. The airport was closed and towns and cities began to empty.


Thailand was the second country to report disaster. Its south-eastern resorts were crammed with Western holidaymakers enjoying Christmas breaks. In Phuket, the tourist playground of five-star resorts, waves 15ft high crashed into the lobbies of the seafront hotels. Trucks and cars were washed into the hotel lobbies, smashing through windows and walls.

In the bustling Thai capital of Bangkok, some 1,240 miles from the epicentre of the quake, buildings swayed. The 24-storey Charoenkrung Pracharat hospital was evacuated. Some patients were moved in to the streets still in their hospital beds, some hooked up to oxygen tanks. Terrified residents in apartment buildings reported hearing loud cracking noises and rumblings. They streamed out into the city's thundering traffic. Aftershocks were felt as far north as Chaing Mai, the trekking capital of northern Thailand.

The flooding in Phuket was mirrored in Phang-Nga province. First casualty reports suggested 100 injured. They were woefully optimistic. The first confirmed deaths came here ­ four people drowned. Many more were feared swept out to sea. Survivors took refuge on rooftops while in neighbouring Krabi two Thais, one a child, and a foreigner were confirmed killed when a wave struck their house.

In Phuket, Boree Carlsson, a 45-year-old Swedish hotel worker, escaped death by grabbing hold of a pillar in a hotel lobby as the furniture was sucked out by the water around him. "As I was standing there, a car actually floated into the hotel lobby and overturned because the current was so strong," he said.


The third country to report the impact of the tsunami was Malaysia. Situated just across the narrow Strait of Malacca from Sumatra, the high-rise condominiums of the northern tourist island of Penang were badly shaken. Building owners checked their properties for damage as police in Penang reported tourists missing after being swept away by huge waves while swimming or riding on jetskis off Penang Island. More deaths were reported in the mainland state of Kedah. Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Razak, addressed the nation. An emergency plan was activated to move people from vulnerable and affected areas. In Singapore, light tremors were reported across the country. There was mass panic as high-rise buildings swayed as the quake hit.

Three hours after Indonesia was hit, the Chittagong geophysical observatory in Bangladesh reported an earthquake measuring 7.36 on the Richter scale. The quake, thought to be a powerful aftershock, was centred on the Andaman Islands at a depth of six miles below the surface. Local seismologists said they lacked the equipment to locate the centre of the quake. But its effects were being felt throughout the region. Elsewhere in the delta nation of 140 million people, further rumbles were reported in southern and western regions as well as in the capital, Dhaka, which has a population of 11 million. Crops were flattened while two children were drowned when a boat with 15 tourists on board capsized in high waves off Kuakata, a resort south of Dhaka.

In Sri Lanka, 1,000 miles west of the epicentre, the southern beach resorts were enjoying their busiest time of the year. But as the first waves came ashore it was clear there was going to be major destruction and loss of life. The chairman of the luxury John Keells hotel group reported five of his resorts seriously damaged. Initial estimates suggested 3,000 people had been displaced from their homes. The figure soon rose to 100,000 but tripled again within hours. Six villages were immediately confirmed as flattened.

This is a very comprehensive story that covers all the effected countries and regions. It is well written and worth the read.


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