The Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami of December 2004

By now, the catastophic event of the December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami is about to be understood by people around the world. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake west of Sumatra caused a series of huge tidal waves (tsunamis) that hit Sumatra, Nicobar, Andaman, Thailand, Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Somalia, and Kenya. Initially, the magnitude of this disaster was not understood.

Initial Reports

Looking at the initial reporting, the Sunday newspaper, 26 December, the day of the event, had a tiny article by Associate Press that merely reads as follows:

Massive earthquake strikes northern Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia. A massive earthquake rocked Indonesia's northernmost province of Aceh today, causing dozens of buildings to collapse, news reports and a seismologist said.

Initial reports said the 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck at 7:59 a.m. local time about 160 kilometers below ground, said a seismologist in Jakarta.

Officials in Jakarta, the country's capital, weren't sure of the location of the epicentre.

However, the U.S. Geological Survey's web site reported a magnitude 8.1 earthquake off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, 1,620 kilometers northwest of Jakarta, centered 40 kilometers below the seabed.

Reports said several buildings in the Aceh provincial capital, Banda Aceh, were lightly damaged and that thousands of people fled their homes when the quake struck.

Indonesia, a country of 17,000 islands, is prone to seismic upheaval because of its location on the margins of the tectonic plates that make up the so-called the Ring of Fire around hte Pacific Ocean basin.

The quake was felt as far away as the Thai capital, Bangkok.

As you can see, this was before the tsunamis hit, and before the magnitude of the disaster unfolded.

Coverage Disparity

The worst hit areas are the ones where news are more scarce from. For example, the province of Aceh in Sumatra, Indonesia did not have news outlets covering much of what has happened there. The same goes for the remote islands of Nicobar and Andaman.

Coverage was focused initally on tourist areas in Phuket, Thailand and its vicinities. Also, the Indian city of Chennai were adequately covered.

Warn Torn Regions

In war torn regions, the disaster was more painful. Aceh had a civil war brewing for a few years. So is the east of Sri Lanka with the Tamil Tigers movement.

There are already accusations that governments are hindering aid distribution to rebel regions, as a political pressure tool.

Moreover, areas that had land mines in Sri Lanka now have no warning signs on them, and it is said that mines have been unearthed by the tsunami tidal wave.

The Latest Situation

Google News reports over 4,800 articles in just three days. Wikipedia has a comprehensive, continuously evolving, coverage of the topic.

Satellite Images

To get a grasp of the scale of destruction and devastation, see these satellite images of the catastrophe in Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

To compare before and after satellite photos, visit the Tsunami Gallery. NASA also has a few large resolution images.


The BBC has maps of the affected regions, with satellite images as well. Check Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Nicobar and Andaman.


Some videos are available as well.

The Role of Amateurs

It is interesting to note that many of the images of the tsunami tidal waves as they were happening were taken by amateurs. The press normally does not cover these things except as an after the fact thing, while they get the crews there, ...etc. Whether it is digital camera images or home video, I do not recall a disaster that was recorded as it happens because so many people are involved in these hobbies nowadays.