Click here to return to main home page


Map of Tsunami affected areas.

Map of Tsunami affected areas THE ACCOUNT OF THE GREAT TSUNAMI DECEMBER 26TH 2004 THE SUMATRA-ANDAMAN ISLANDS EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI OF 26 DEC 2004 This is the fourth largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and is the largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska earthquake. The earthquake itself caused severe damage and casualties in northern Sumatra, Indonesia and in the Nicobar Islands, India. The earthquake casualties are included with the tsunami statistics below. The earthquake was felt at the following selected localities: Indonesia: IX at Banda Aceh VIII at Meulaboh IV at Medan and Sampali III at Bukittinggi, Parapat and Payakumbuh Felt at Jakarta India: VII at Port Blair, Andaman Islands IV at Madras III at Bengaluru and Vishakhapatnam Felt at Bangalore, Bhubaneshwar, Calcutta and Kochi Malaysia: V at Gelugor Estate IV at Sungai Ara III at Alor Setar, George Town, Kampong Tanjong Bunga, Kuala Lumpur and Kulim Thailand: V at Hat Yai IV at Bangkok III at Chiang Mai and Phuket Myanmar: IV at Mandalay III at Rangoon Singapore: II on Singapore Bangladesh: III at Dhaka Felt at Chittagong Sri Lanka: II at Kandy and in other parts of Sri Lanka Maldives: IV at Male (nearly 2500 km from the epicenter) Guam: Felt by people in a high rise building at Hagatna (more than 5400 km from the epicenter) The tsunami from this earthquake caused extreme destruction in South Asia, was recorded nearly world-wide and killed more people than any tsunami in recorded history. In total, at least 283,100 people were killed, 14,100 are missing and 1,126,900 were displaced by the earthquake and tsunami: At least 108,100 people were killed, 127,700 are missing and presumed dead and 426,800 were displaced by the earthquake and tsunami in Aceh and Sumatera Utara Provinces, Indonesia. About 70 percent of the small-scale fishing fleet was destroyed. Tsunami runup heights of more than 30 meters were observed along the west coast of Sumatra. At least 30,900 people were killed, 5,400 missing and 552,600 displaced by the tsunami in Sri Lanka, where wave heights were estimated to be 5-15 meters. About 66 percent of the fishing fleet was destroyed and 10 of 12 major fishing harbors in the country had some damage. At least 10,700 people were killed, 5,600 missing and 112,500 displaced in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India. Wave heights were estimated to be more than 20 meters in the Andaman Islands and 10 meters on the east coast of India. At least 5,300 people were killed, 8,400 injured and 3,100 missing along the west coast of Thailand, where wave heights were estimated to be as high as 3-5 meters in the Phuket area. The tsunami also caused casualties and/or damage in the following countries: Somalia: at least 150 people killed and about 5,000 displaced. Maldives: 82 people killed, 26 missing and more than 21,600 displaced. Malaysia: 68 people killed, 6 missing and about 4,200 displaced. Myanmar: 90 people killed, 10 missing and 3,200 displaced. Tanzania: 10 people killed. Seychelles: 3 people killed. Bangladesh: 2 people killed. Kenya: 1 person killed. Madagascar: about 1,000 people displaced. Mauritius: some damage. Mozambique: tsunami was observed, but no damage reported. In Australia, the tsunami caused minor damage at Geraldton and Mangles Bay. A 30 centimeter wave was observed at Penguin Island. People were swept into the ocean at Delambre Island and Geographe Bay, but all survived. The tsunami was observed at Busselton. Maximum tsunami heights, peak-to-trough in centimeters, were recorded at the following selected tide stations: Indian Ocean: Kochi, India 130 Tuticorin, India 210 Vishakhapatnam, India 240 Diego Garcia, Chagos Archipelago 80 Colombo, Sri Lanka 260 Salalah, Oman 250 Lamu, Kenya 120 Zanzibar, Tanzania 80 Male, Maldives 210 Port Louis, Mauritius 210 Port Elizabeth, South Africa 273 Richards Bay, South Africa 165 East Ongul Island, Antarctica 75 Cocos Island, Australia 42 Esperance, Western Australia, Australia 80 Hillarys, Western Australia, Australia 90 Portland, Victoria, Australia 85 Mid-ocean, about 5 S, SSE of Sri Lanka 100 approximate (from Jason 1 satellite altimeter) Pacific Ocean: Rosslyn Bay, Queensland, Australia 25 Spring Bay, Tasmania, Australia 60 Chatham Island, New Zealand 35 Jackson Bay, South Island, New Zealand 65 Napier, North Island, New Zealand 30 Timaru, South Island, New Zealand 80 Port Vila, Vanuatu 15 Nukualofa, Tonga 10 Suva, Fiji 11 Pago Pago, American Samoa 10 Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia 5 Noumea, New Caledonia 10 Severo-Kurilsk, Russia 29 Bella Bella, British Columbia, Canada 9 Tofino, British Columbia, Canada 15 Adak, Alaska, U.S. 21 Sand Point, Alaska, U.S. 28 Crescent City, California, U.S. 61 Point Reyes, California, U.S. 39 Port San Luis, California, U.S. 53 San Diego, California, U.S. 32 Hilo, Hawaii, U.S. 18 Kahului, Hawaii, U.S. 30 Neah Bay, Washington, U.S. 13 Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 24 Manzanillo, Mexico 80 Acajutla, El Salvador 32 Baltra Island, Galapagos, Ecuador 36 Callao, Peru 68 Arica, Chile 72 Puerto Williams, Chile 29 Valparaiso, Chile 18 Atlantic Ocean: Cape Town, South Africa 96 Port Noloth, South Africa 50 Newlyn, United Kingdom 16 Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada 43 Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S. 22 Port Canaveral, Florida, U.S. 34 San Juan, Puerto Rico 4 Charlotte Amalie, Virgin Islands 18 Bermuda 12 Imbituba, Brazil 150 approximate Rio de Janiero, Brazil 30 K. Abe has computed a tsunami magnitude (Mt) of 9.1 for this event. Landslides and approximately 2 meters of subsidence were observed in Sumatra. A mud volcano became active near Baratang, Andaman Islands on December 28. Gas emissions were reported in Arakan, Myanmar. Seiches occurred in Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal, India and as far away as Tulsa County, Oklahoma, United States. Water level fluctuations occurred in wells as far away as Florida, Nebraska and Virginia, United States. Principal sources: U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Situation Reports and ReliefWeb website as of 2 Feb 2005. For updates, see http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/dbc.nsf/doc100?OpenForm. A. Rabinovich and J. Gower, Institute of Ocean Sciences, Canada, website http://www-sci.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/osap/projects/tsunami/default_e.htm. NOAA, West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, webpage on the Indian Ocean tsunami, http://wcatwc.arh.noaa.gov/IndianOSite/IndianO12-26-04.htm. K. Abe and Y. Tsuji, et al., Earthquake Research Institute, University of Tokyo, Special Event Page, at http://www.eri.u-tokyo.ac.jp/topics/SUMATRA2004/index-e.html S. Martin, Amateur Seismic Centre, Pune, India, Special Event page, at http://asc-india.org/events/041226_bob.htm. V. Dent, University of Western Australia, Asian Tsunami effects in Western Australia, at http://www.seismicity.segs.uwa.edu.au/welcome/asian_tsunami_in_wa CNN website, at http://www.cnn.com/. BBC World Service website, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/index.shtml. Felt reports contributed to USGS "Did you feel it?" webpages, at: http://pasadena.wr.usgs.gov/shake/ous/index.html. Tectonic Summary: The devastating earthquake of 26 December 2004 occurred as thrust-faulting on the interface of the India plate and the Burma plate. In a period of minutes, the faulting released elastic strains that had accumulated for centuries from ongoing subduction of the India plate beneath the overriding Burma plate. In a broad sense, the India and Australian plates move toward the north- northeast with respect to the interior of the Eurasia plate with velocities of about 60 mm/y in the region of the earthquake. In the region of northern Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands, most of the relative motion of India/Australia and the Eurasia plate is accommodated at the Sunda trench and within several hundred kilometers to the east of the Sunda trench, on the boundaries of the Burma plate. The direction in which India/Australia converges toward Eurasia is oblique to the trend of the Sunda trench. The oblique motion is partitioned into thrust-faulting and strike-slip faulting. The thrust faulting occurs on the interface between the India plate and the western margin of the Burma plate and involves slip directed at a large angle to the orientation of the trench. The strike-slip faulting occurs on the eastern boundary of the Burma plate and involves slip directed approximately parallel to the trench. The 26 December main shock occurred as the result of thrust faulting on the western Burma-plate boundary, but many strike-slip faulting aftershocks occurred on the eastern plate boundary. Currently available models of the 26 December main-shock fault displacement differ in many interesting details, but are consistent in implying that fault- rupture propagated to the northwest from the epicenter and that substantial fault-rupture occurred hundreds of kilometers northwest of the epicenter. The data upon which the modeling is based do not permit confident resolution of the extent of rupture beyond about 500 km northwest of the main-shock epicenter. The width of the earthquake rupture, measured perpendicular to the Sunda trench, is estimated to have been about 150 kilometers and the maximum displacement on the fault plane about 20 meters. The sea floor overlying the thrust fault would have been uplifted by several meters as a result of the earthquake. The zone of aftershocks to the 26 December earthquake is over 1300 km long. Because aftershocks occur on and very near the fault-planes of main shocks, the length of the aftershock zone suggests that main-shock fault-rupture may have extended north of the epicenter by an amount significantly larger than 500 km. However, a great earthquake may also trigger earthquake activity on faults that are distinct from the main-shock fault plane and separated from it by tens or even hundreds of kilometers. We will not know until further analysis how much of the 26 December aftershock zone may correspond to activity in the immediate vicinity of the main-shock rupture, and how much may correspond to activity remote from the main-shock rupture. Since 1900, earthquakes similarly sized or larger than the 26 December earthquake have been the magnitude 9.0 1952 Kamchatka earthquake, the magnitude 9.1 1957 Andreanof Islands, Alaska, earthquake, the magnitude 9.5 1960 Chile earthquake, and the magnitude 9.2 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska, earthquake. All of these earthquakes, like the one on 26 December, were mega-thrust events, occurring where one tectonic plate subducts beneath another. All produced destructive tsunamis, although deaths and damage from the 26 December tsunami far exceed those caused by tsunamis associated with the earlier earthquakes.