Indonesian Earthquake, Waves Kill 12,300 Across Asia (Update3)

27 December 2004 | 11:47 Code : 4584 Geoscience events
The death toll rose to at least 12,300 after the world's most powerful earthquake in 40 years, off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, unleashed waves that flooded coastal towns from Thailand to India.

The death toll rose to at least 12,300 after the world's most powerful earthquake in 40 years, off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, unleashed waves that flooded coastal towns from Thailand to India. Yesterday's magnitude 9.0 quake, the fourth-largest in the world since 1900, caused waves as high as 10 meters (33 feet) to strike tourist resorts in Thailand, Malaysia and the Maldives. At least 4,448 people were killed in Indonesia, Agence France-Presse said, citing officials. Sri Lanka declared a state of disaster as about 4,300 were killed on the island.

``All round the numbers are going to rise for a couple of days,'' said Megan Chisholm, senior emergencies officer at CARE Australia, an aid organization with staff in most of the affected countries. ``I don't think we'll really know the full extent of the damage for a couple of days yet, until access to all places is achieved.'' Freak waves may flood coastal cities in India for the next two days, said A.K. Shukla, head of the Indian Meteorological Department. As many as 200,000 may have lost their homes in Sri Lanka, President Chandrika Kumaratunga said. `The power of this earthquake, and its huge geographical reach, are just staggering,'' said Carol Bellamy, executive director for the UN Children's Fund, in a statement. ``Hundreds of thousands of children in coastal communities in six countries may be in serious jeopardy.''

In India at least 3,223 people are dead following the freak waves that hit the country's south coast, according to updated death tolls reported by the Press Trust of India. Unicef and other United Nations agencies are working with countries and are ready to respond where help is needed.

Peak Season

In Thailand, at least 392 people were killed when the tsunamis struck -- during the south coast's peak holiday season. Thousands more were injured on resort islands including Phuket. Many of the casualties are foreign tourists, officials say. At least one Taiwanese tourist is dead and three injured out of about 470 that were holidaying in Phuket, said Wu Chao-yen, director of Taiwan's tourism bureau. A New Zealand woman who was holidaying in Thailand is dead, according to the country's government.

The U.S. said it's already providing aid to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and is prepared to give assistance to other affected countries. Canada has also pledged assistance, and the Australian government will give A$10 million ($7.7 million) to the quake zone, the Age newspaper reported.

Further Tremors

The earthquake struck at 7 a.m. local time and was centered 1,605 kilometers (1,000 miles) northwest of Jakarta at a depth of 10 kilometers, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Since the first tremor struck yesterday, there have been a further 25 after- shocks, one of 7.3 magnitude, according to the survey's Web site. The latest was centered near the Andaman Islands, off India, at 6.19 a.m. local time. About 200 people in Indonesia's Aceh province are confirmed dead, said Doti Indrasanto, head of the Center for Emergency Preparedness in Jakarta. Phone lines and electricity were cut.

The toll will rise further as more bodies are found, Doti Indrasoti, head of the Center for Health Emergency Preparedness and Response at the health ministry, said in a phone interview from Palembang in South Sumatra.

``We cannot yet determine the economic loss of the disaster, for sure it's going to be huge and we welcome help from everyone,'' Indrasoti said. An airport in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital of Aceh, has been closed due to flooding. Tsunami waves along the north coast of Aceh knocked out at least one bridge and demolished buildings, the Geology and Meteorology Office in Jakarta said. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono today declared three days of national mourning for the quake victims, AFP said.

Threat Not Over

In India, the threat from tsunamis isn't over, officials said.

``We expect the big waves to lash Chennai and parts of Tamil Nadu for the next two days,'' A.K. Shukla, head of the Indian Meteorological Department, said in an interview from New Delhi. The southern state of Tamil Nadu was the hardest hit in India, with more than 600 dead, Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters in New Delhi. `The entire coastal area of northern Jaffna to Colombo has been severely affected, and we have asked international help to evacuate people,'' M.A. Hasan, information spokesman for the Sri Lankan government, said in an interview from the capital of Colombo. There were no immediate reports of damage to oil facilities in Indonesia, Southeast Asia's biggest oil producer. Exxon Mobil Corp., which operates gas fields in Aceh, has had no production disruptions, spokeswoman Deva Rachman said by phone.

Malaysia Drownings

In Malaysia, at least 42 people drowned after freak waves hit two resort islands, AFP said. The Indonesian quake is the second in the world this year of magnitude 8 or greater on the Richter scale. A magnitude 8.1 temblor was recorded on Dec. 24 in the Southern Ocean between Australia and Antarctica by the U.S. Geological Survey. Magnitude 8 earthquakes are capable of causing severe loss of life if centered near heavily populated areas. An 8.1 quake in Mexico City in 1985 killed about 9,500 people. The biggest earthquake since 1900 was a 9.5-magnitude temblor in Chile in 1960, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site, followed by two earthquakes in Alaska and one in Russia's Kamchatka region that ranked 9 or above. More than 30,000 people died when an earthquake measuring 6.6 devastated the Iranian city of Bam exactly a year ago, on Dec. 26, 2003. Indonesia's 18,000 islands are prone to earthquakes because the nation sits along the Pacific ``ring of fire,'' a zone of active volcanoes and faults in tectonic plates.


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