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What Was the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 17, 2024
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The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was a catastrophic event associated with a the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, the second largest ever recorded by a seismograph. The earthquake lasted about nine minutes, the longest ever recorded, and had a magnitude on the Richter scale of 9.3, and was the second most severe earthquake since 1737. Its epicenter was off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The immense amount of energy released caused the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed over 225,000 people in eleven countries, and caused waves as tall as 30 m (100 ft). The shaking of the earthquake itself was felt in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and the Maldives. The primary force of the tsunami was felt in nations on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, to the east of India.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was the seventh deadliest natural disaster in history, only being surpassed by one other earthquake, two cyclones, and three floods. The Indian Ocean tsunami destroyed many thousands of homes and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless, mostly in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. The international community responded by donating more than $7 billion (2004 U.S. dollars) in humanitarian aid, and flying in supplies via jumbo jets. As of 2008, economic reconstruction in some coastal areas is still ongoing.

The Indian Ocean tsunami was caused by what is called a megathrust earthquake, where one tectonic plate slips beneath (subducts) another. In the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, the India Plate subducted under the Burma Plate, over 8 - 10 minutes, across a length 1600 km (1000 mi) long, with a total motion of 35 m (108 ft). This released energy equivalent to 26.3 megatons of TNT, over 1502 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, but less than that of the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated. The event was followed by numerous aftershocks which shook the surrounding area daily for the next three to four months.

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Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime WiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Discussion Comments

By jmc88 — On Jun 18, 2012

@stl156 - I know what you mean. Every time there is a disaster I expect to see every angle imaginable of it from the media and although they are giving people the information they crave and need to know they are taking advantage of the victims and not doing much to help them besides the attention they get.

I remember watching how they did not focus on the tragedy, but how the United States gave the lowest percentage of their wealth to help, which was still over three times as much as any other country.

They debated trivial things such as this to rile people up and watch their newscast instead of focusing on things like listing confirmed casualties as well as what people could do to help.

I know people complained quite a bit about the way some news outlets handled the Indian Ocean Tsunami and I am wondering if anyone can remember if anything was done about it?

By stl156 — On Jun 17, 2012

I really think that the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami is one of those events that everyone remembers where they were at when it occurred.

Although the actual physical impact was not felt in the United States the amount of hopelessness and despair for the poor people whose lives were affected definitely sent the world into shock and definitely caused people to think of their own morality and how it could be taken away so suddenly.

I feel like the world really helped by pitching in and giving as much as they could. I know that there were reports that the United States was not contributing enough, but felt that these were slanted arguments from media trying to capitalize on a tragedy.

This is a trend I see a lot anytime a disaster like this happens and I usually get disgusted with the media with their usual reporting of these events.

By cardsfan27 — On Jun 17, 2012

@matthewc23 - You are absolutely correct and to be honest there is absolutely nothing in the past hundred years that can compare to this tsunami.

in my lifetime the only two disasters that can hold any comparison at all to the Indian Ocean Tsunami are Hurricane Katrina of 2005 and the Japan Tsunami.

Despite the amount of destruction that occurred with both these disasters Katrina only claimed 1000 lives and the Japanese Tsunami, although still being assessed, will not come close to the number that the Indian Ocean Tsunami brought in the death toll.

Even looking back at other natural disasters the eruption of Mount Saint Helens and even Krakatoa, the largest volcanic explosion in human history, definitely do not come close to the amount of destruction incurred by this natural disaster.

By matthewc23 — On Jun 16, 2012
I have read quite a bit about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and I have to say that I feel it is one of those things that even one hundred years from now will be seen as one of the biggest disasters in human history.

Looking back there are very few disasters, man made or natural, that have occurred at such a large scale as this one.

The fact that over two hundred thousand people were killed over this area and billions of dollars of damage was incurred shows that the force of this tsunami was something that no one could have done nothing about as well as something that almost never happens.

I have seen numerous disasters in my lifetime, but none have come even close to the destruction and despair of this particular tsunami.

By fify — On Apr 13, 2011

I did an assignment for one of my teachers about the Indian Ocean Tsunami soon after it happened. I wrote about Bande Aceh in Indonesia. This province was hardest hit by the tsunami. The shoreline and buildings were partly wiped out by the waves. Much of the farmland was flooded too. The death toll there was about 1500.

Thankfully there was a lot of humanitarian assistance and I saw a news article the other day that was talking about how Bande Aceh has mostly recovered and has been rebuilt.

It was very difficult to do this assignment, to know what was going on there and not really being able to do anything other than sending donations and praying.

Michael Anissimov

Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime WiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology,...

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