Is there ever an earthquake in Malaysia
Giant waves brought death and devastation
The first report came in the early hours of the morning via the news agencies: “A violent earthquake with its center off western Indonesia shook large parts of Southeast Asia on Sunday morning and triggered high tidal waves. In Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, a total of at least 19 people were killed. "
The number of deaths was subsequently corrected upwards every hour - 19 eventually became between 230,000 and 250,000 fatalities from around 50 countries. The number of missing persons could not be clarified until today. Over 110,000 people were injured and more than 1.7 million coastal residents around the Indian Ocean were left homeless. Entire coastal regions in Asia, including a number of fully booked tourist strongholds, were razed to the ground by waves up to ten meters high.
Chronology of the first days
The submarine earthquake registered at 7.58 a.m. local time (1.59 a.m. CET) quickly proved to be much stronger than originally assumed and was ultimately given a magnitude of 9.1 to 9.3. It was the third strongest quake ever recorded and the worst in 40 years. The epicenter was in the Indian Ocean about 150 kilometers from the west Indonesian island of Sumatra. A huge tsunami formed with waves up to ten meters high, which initially raced towards the coasts of the Indonesian province of Aceh.
Waves to Africa
But the tremors also drove giant waves to Thailand and Malaysia, to Sri Lanka and India and to the east coast of Africa. A tsunami early warning system did not exist at the time and was only implemented as a consequence of the disaster. The people living in the coastal regions therefore hardly had time to get to safety - tsunamis spread at up to 800 km / h.
The tsunami finally hit Aceh with full force. More than 160,000 people were torn to their deaths within a short period of time. Sri Lanka, which was reached by the wave more than two hours after the quake, had the second highest number of victims at around 45,000. Here, one of the country's most important economic sectors, tourism, was badly hit - just like in Thailand, where more than 8,000 people were killed. 85 of the 86 Austrians killed in the tsunami lost their lives in the holiday strongholds of Phuket, Khao Lak and on the Phi Phi Islands.
South India was also badly devastated, especially the state of Tamil Nadu with its metropolis Chennai and the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. Although the tsunami took around three hours to get to the coast of Tamil Nadu and around two hours to get to the islands, more than 12,000 people died in India. There were also victims in the Maldives (around 80), Myanmar (around 90) and Malaysia (around 70). Even in the Horn of Africa, in Somalia, around 300 people were killed.
Help from all over the world
After the tsunami a worldwide relief operation was started. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the affected states of the EU and 22 member states sitting in the aid committee of the OECD were promised 13.6 billion dollars (then: 9.22 billion euros). Numerous countries sent identification teams to Southeast Asia. Austria stationed two DVI units (Disaster Victim Identification, note) in Thailand and Sri Lanka, and drinking water treatment teams were also sent to the disaster areas. Within a short period of time, countless reconstruction programs got under way.
Commemorations on the 15th anniversary
The 2004 victims were commemorated on Thursday in several countries around the Indian Ocean. In Thailand, hundreds of people of Buddhist, Christian and Muslim faith came together to pray in the Memorial Park in Ban Nam Khem on the 15th anniversary. In the Indonesian province of Aceh, where most of the people died, bereaved relatives gathered at the graves of their loved ones. In Siron, where at least 47,000 victims were buried in mass graves, they prayed and scattered flowers on the graves.
Tsunami catastrophes have occurred repeatedly: in 1992, the masses of water in eastern Indonesia even caused an island to sink for a short time, killing more than 2,000 people. In 1883, the Indonesian volcano Krakatau spat 18 cubic kilometers of pumice stone and ash, causing tidal waves that killed more than 35,000 people. But devastation like 2004 was unprecedented.
According to experts, a recurrence is also unlikely. "There will not be so many victims in a future comparable tsunami if the early warning system works," said the German physicist Jörn Lauterjung from the Geoforschungszentrum (GFZ) in Potsdam recently. After the disaster, Lauterjung took over the management of an international team on behalf of Germany, which developed an early warning system in Indonesia.
If the system registers a strong seaquake, it creates a picture of the situation within a maximum of five minutes, said Lauterjung. Situation centers in Indonesia, Australia and India would then send alerts to all affected countries in the Indian Ocean. These should then inform their respective population - for example via the police and fire brigade as well as through the media.
Lauterjung advises that tourists in the region should ask about an evacuation plan in their hotel so that they know what to do in the event of a tsunami warning. The general rule is: seek shelter away from the coast and at heights - for example in a well-built high-rise. However, from a statistical point of view, earthquakes as strong as at Christmas 2004 are very rare: they would occur approximately every 400 to 700 years.
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