The Indian Ocean Tsunami, normally refers to the tragedy that unfurled in the early hours of Boxing Day 2004. A huge earthquake occurred off the West Coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. It triggered a Tsunami that proved to be one of the deadliest natural disasters in the history of the world. The Indian Ocean Tsunami has been giving many titles including: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, South Asian tsunami, Indonesian tsunami, the Christmas tsunami and the Boxing Day tsunami.

The event was caused when two plates the Indian and the Burma slipped. In all it effected 14 countries with a tidal wave that reached a height of 100 feet in some areas. Within Southeast Asia the worst affected countries were Indonesia and Thailand. Further afield Sri Lanka and India were also badly affected. The earthquake was the third strongest ever recorded at 9.3 Megawatts. It was also the longest ever recorded lasting for almost 10 minutes.

This was an enormous event by any measure. The shift of mass and the enormous release of energy actually altered the Earth’s rotation slightly. The exact amount is not yet known, but theoretical models have suggested that the earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami that followed shortened the length of a day by 2.68 microseconds.

The real tragedy in the region was caused due to the complete lack of Tsunami warning systems. The tidal wave came some hours after the earthquake and if warnings had been in place, many thousands of lives would have been saved. People’s general ignorance didn’t help. As the sea receded many actually walked onto the beaches to witness this strange phenomenon. They then  found escape impossible when it came rushing back in.

The affect of the Indian Ocean Tsunami on the region

In Thailand the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit the southwest which was about 300 miles from the epicentre. World famous resorts such as Phuket were hit at high tide. 5,400 people were killed and 3,100 people reported missing in Thailand. The specific places where the tsunami hit were Khao Lak, Phuket Island and Koh Phi Phi. Aaron Le Boutillier’s heartbreaking account of events are told in his wonderful but difficult read “And Then One Morning”. The central strip of beaches in Koh Phi Phi were totally destroyed.

The largest tsunami in Thailand hit Khao Lak. In places it higher than 30 feet. Hotels there had flooding up to the third floors. It appears that the disappearing sea here caused a second much higher wave.

Indonesia was hit terribly hard. Two enormous today waves 15 minutes apart ripped through the country.  The first was just 15 minutes after the earthquake. On the northern tip of Sumatra, Banda Aceh was hit by a 100 feet high wall of water, nothing could escape. Two miles in from the sea all but the strongest concrete built structures simply disappeared. In a town called Lhoknga was utterly destroyed, the population of 7,500 was reduced to just 400, a truly heartbreaking statistic.

It is a measure of the people of Southeast Asia that they have bounced back from this devastating event. In some of the badly hit areas, things were almost back to normal within a few short months. The Indian Ocean Tsunami did though alter this wonderful region forever. The dreadful loss of life and the horror stories that people witnessed, will never and should never be forgotten.