The 2004 Yuletide Tsunami
(Top Posts - History - 120105)

The day the sea came
- - -
December 26th, 2004, local time
December 25th, 2004, in the U.S.A.

By Barry Bearak, The New York Times
- - -



For the earth, it was just a twinge.

Last Dec. 26 [2004], at 7:59 a.m., one
part of the planet's undersea crust made
an abrupt shift beneath another along a
750-mile seam near the island of Sumatra.

The tectonic plates had been grating
against each other for millenniums, and
now the higher of the two was lifted per-
haps 60 feet.

For a planet where landmasses are in
constant motion across geological time,
the event was of no great moment.

But for people - who mark the calendar
in days and months rather than eons -
a monumental catastrophe had begun,
not only the largest earthquake in 40
years but also the displacement of
billions of tons of water, unleashing a
series of mammoth waves: a tsunami.

These surging mounds of water raced
toward land with the speed of a jet air-
craft and then slowed as they reared
up to leap ashore at heights of 50 feet
and higher. They were long as well as
tall, stampeding inland and carrying with
them all they were destroying.

People caught in the waves became
small ingredients in an enormous blender,
bludgeoned by concrete slabs and felled
trees, stabbed by jagged sheets of glass,
tangled up in manacles of wire.

The number of the dead and missing is
now estimated at 232,000. And while this
includes victims from a dozen nations,
more than two-thirds - some 169,000 -
came from a single place, the Indonesian
province of Aceh.

And of Aceh's mortal toll, more than half
- some 90,000 - came from a single city,
Banda Aceh, and its immediate surround-
ings. This provincial capital was a place
of large government buildings, two major
universities, a historic mosque, stores
and restaurants, a harbor and a fishing


The devastation left its own peculiar
boundaries. Roughly a third of the city
- the two miles nearest the Indian Ocean -
was flattened and denuded, with only an
occasional tree or shank of cement es-
caping the sledgehammer strength of
the waves.

A mile or so farther inland, the destruction
was more erratic, its effects less a conse-
quence of battering than of flooding.

The rest of the city entirely evaded the
water's horrific reach; hours went by
before some of its residents even knew
the day was anything other than sunny
and serene.


The world had seen the onrushing wave
on the news, and people could imagine
it, all those tons of mesmerizing water,
getting closer and rising higher. Most of
the early video had been from the vaca-
tion spots of Thailand. The tourists had
camcorders; they spoke in English.

In those first days, less was mentioned
about Aceh.

For years, most foreigners had been
forbidden to enter the province as the
government in Jakarta and the rebels
of GAM pursued their low-boil war. The
tsunami opened that bolted door.

Within the week, aid workers from
abroad began arriving by the hundreds
to assist Indonesian emergency teams;
foreign militaries were permitted to air-
lift supplies.

Within months, more than 120 foreign
NGO's would set up operations. For
most of them, money was no object.
Generosity toward the tsunami victims
was unprecedented, "breaking all rec-
ords for voluntary giving," according to
the World Bank.


The tsunami had flattened the coast in
a matter of minutes. The recovery, on
the other hand, would take years.

In the meantime, people were living
wretchedly in tents and slapdash bar-
racks or crowded in with relatives.

Nearly a year after the tsunami, an over-
whelming majority of victims would still
be without permanent homes.


- - - end excerpts - - -


In the article, personal stories of six Aceh-
nese who experienced the 2004 tsunami
are told:

[excerpt from the article]

o Jaloe, a fisherman, survived because
he turned his boat toward the gargan-
tuan waves while others steered away.

o Dr. Sri, assigned to the general hospi-
tal's emergency room, was saved by
holiday scheduling.

o Maisara, a housewife, swam through
the turbid water and grabbed hold of
a floating wooden beam.

o Romi, a deliveryman, was carried
a mile by the waves and then beached
onto a logjam of rubble.

o Haikal, a social activist, boosted him-
self atop a buoyant patch of roof.

o Faridah, a shopkeeper, regained con-
sciousness in time to wrap herself
around a palm tree.

[end of excerpt from the article]

- - -

The 2004 tsunami was the worst natural
disaster to occur suddenly, over a vast
area, without warning, in modern times.

In recent times, however, natural disasters
such as

o the hurricane which hit Bangladesh in
1991, killing at least 140,000 people,


o the earthquake that hit northeast China
in 1976, killing over 240,000 people,


o the hurricane which hit East Pakistan
(now Bangladesh) in 1970, with a huge
50 foot tidal wave and a death toll be-
tween 300,000 and 500,000 people

have been similar in nature, in both the lack
of warning -and- in the devastating impact
on human life.

- - -

For those of a religious persuasion, one
would be justified in pondering -if- and
-how- and -why- their deity (or deities)
of choice were -or- were not involved
in the 2004 Yuletide Tsunami (and in all
natural disasters).

The end of the article is a reminder of
how some of a religious persuasion per-
ceive the causality of natural disasters:

Excerpt -- end of the article:

There is a homemade sign hanging
by a rope from a broken pillar. The
writing isn't hers. Maisara would
never spell so badly. The sign was
made by others, but she finds the
sentiment to be a palliative for her
impossible sorrow.

Maisara has finally accepted the
reality that her three girls were
forever taken from her by the

"Thank you, Allah," the words say.
"The tsunami is a gift that has
brought those we love to paradise.
We are happy to let them go.
Those who stay should repent."

- - -

For non-religious individuals, those
who don't believe a deity or deities
are involved in the natural world, the
explanation for the disasters which
threaten humankind is straight-for-

A natural world is not beholden to
humankind, and to the extent that
humans benefit from -or- are
harmed by the natural world, that's
simply a result of the way that phy-
sical laws operate in the particular
space-time continuum we evolved

As for causality:

o No entity other than a natural world is
to be given credit as the ultimate caus-
ality of aspects of existence we like.

o No entity other than a natural world
is to blame as the ultimate causality
of aspects of existence we dislike.

To the extent that we can understand and
overcome naturalistic risks, humankind can
benefit therefrom.

To the extent that we are unable to under-
stand and overcome naturalistic risks, the
risk of harm to humankind persists.