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Jun 12, 2019 in Review

Indian Ocean Earthquake


Natural disasters occurring from earth’s natural course usually end up causing disastrous results. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake is categorized as one such natural disaster. Different countries could feel its impact on the planet. Nations like Sweden lost its citizens who had gone to the affected islands for the December holiday vacation (Symonds par.1).  The paper discusses the damages and the positive and negative results of the earthquake. It also explores the evacuation plans initiated by the governments of the countries most affected by the disaster. The paper also gives recommendations on practical rescue procedures that could have helped mitigate the effects of the earthquake.

The Event

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake occurred in the early morning of December 26, 2004. The earthquake originating in the Indian Ocean on the western Sumatran coast had a registered magnitude of between 9.1. to 9.3(Ramalanjaona 1). The earthquake covered a vast geographical region of approximately 1600 kilometers of fault line (Ramalanjaona 1). It lasted ten minutes and was significant enough to cause the whole planet to vibrate and move half an inch (Ramalanjaona 1). Experts categorize the earthquake as the second highest in the world's history since the 1973 earthquake in Kamchatka, Russia.  Upon its occurrence, it triggered a series of tsunamis in the countries that border the ocean. The abrupt rise of a seabed by several meters during an earth tremor ends up causing tsunamis. The risen seabed displaces water volumes causing a tsunami to occur (Ramalanjaona 2).

 The most affected nations were Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and India. The tsunami traveled as far as Rooi Els in South Africa, a distance of 8000 kilometers away from Sumatra (Ramalanjaona 2). It also reached the eastern side of Africa in countries such as Somalia and Kenya where it killed people due to the extensive high level of waves in the Indian Ocean. The earthquake also triggered other earthquakes throughout the planet earth. An example is when the 2004 Sumatra earthquake activated another earthquake in the Nia Island in Sumatra which registered a magnitude of 8.7(Ramalanjaona 3). It consequently triggered other similar and smaller earthquakes. The 2004 India Ocean earthquake also activated Leuser volcanic mountain in Aceh, Indonesia (Ramalanjaona 3).

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Damages Caused by the Earthquake

Most of the areas in the major countries affected by the earthquake and the tsunami had traditional house structures. These structures could not withstand the forces of the tsunami waves and ended up destroyed. All that remained of the houses were concrete ground slabs and heaps of wood (Cluff 1).  Another type of damage that the earthquake caused is on the electricity power distribution networks of most affected islands. As most of the electricity networks were above the ground, they ended up being significantly destroyed. In Banda Aceh, Indonesia, about 170,000 people were affected by the loss of electrical power due to the destruction of the networks (Cluff 2). 

The tsunami waves also led to the significant damage of roads and bridges in the affected regions. The waves broke down the bridges and swept them thousands of kilometers away from their foundations. Consequently, this disabled the transportation networks and impeded the evacuation efforts of stranded people by their governments (Cluff 2). There was also environmental damage on the beaches as a result of the tsunami waves. Ecosystems like coral reefs, vegetations and mangroves were uprooted and washed away due to the force of the waves (Cluff 2). The waves also carried solid and liquid sewage wastes to different parts causing water pollution. The chemicals that were transported by the water to different regions of the affected islands also contributed to the water pollution. The penetration of salt waters carried by the waves also affected the freshwaters on the islands. Coral reefs that are usually dependent on fresh water became inhabitable (Cluff 3). 

The Affected Government’s Evacuation Plans

The governments of the major countries that were affected by the tsunami lacked a tsunami warning system. The situation made it impossible for them to detect the disaster early enough to prepare for it .They, however, received a notice from the Pacific Ocean’s tsunami warning system cautioning them that the Indian Ocean was going to be affected by a tsunami. In Indonesia despite the warning the police and army were caught unawares (Symonds par.9). The government gave the citizens a 15 to 30 minutes notice to flee the island of Sumatra that was the epicenter of the disaster (Symonds par.1). The only seismological equipment in Indonesia capable of providing early warnings of the tsunami was in a government office in Java Island. However, the office lacked a telephone line for the officers to call and notify officials in the other parts of the country of the tsunami danger. Once the tsunami had hit the province of Aceh, the government of Indonesia through its police, military, and medical services embarked on evacuating people from the province.  Thousands of people were evacuated using emergency established routes, but the effect could already be felt. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives to the disaster (Symonds par.10). 

In Thailand, seismologists registered the earthquake. The meteorological department convened an emergency meeting and discussed the tsunami. However, they decided not to issue a warning. The officials cited that it was a peak tourist season, and they were afraid of the repercussions of a false alert. Unfortunately, the tsunami occurred. The government had to act fast to evacuate the affected persons (Symonds par.12). The government used the auto rickshaw drivers who had access in regions such as the Phi Phi islands to drive people to higher grounds and victims to hospitals. The government also used elephants to move heavy debris to clear the roads and to search for victims (Symonds par.12).

In India, the government had installed tsunami warning systems in India’s island of Nicobar. The Ministry of Home Affairs spearheaded the evacuation efforts (Asian Disaster Reduction Center 4).  The ministry led the relief efforts through a central control room in the capital city of India. The government through the Ministry allocated $112 million to address the immediate needs of the population (ADRC 4). At state levels, the government appointed relief commissioners to coordinate rescue and relief efforts. The commissioners were assisted by the police, air force, army and medical services. They provided the population with shelter, clean water, medical supplies and electricity. They also evacuated the stranded people to higher places using helicopters deployed by the government (ADRC 4). The government also opened relief camps in various areas. An example is the Port Blair relief camp that accommodated victims of the tsunami from Nicobar Island (Sudhir et al. 732).

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The Effects of Earthquake

Indonesia witnessed one of the positive effects of the earthquake. The nation's rebel group GAM in solidarity with the nation's victims decided to declare a truce in its fight with the government. The government agreed to the truce. A resumption of their peace talks followed the truce. It resulted in a peace agreement signed in August 2005 between the two warring sides (Ramalanjaona 3).  India witnesses another positive effect of the earthquake. The disaster helped to uncover the long lost city of Mahalipuram. For centuries, the city had been covered by sand. The waves helped reveal the city together with relics such as half-buried granite lions and elephants (Ramalanjaona 3). 

However, the majority effects of the earthquake were negative. The disaster led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. An investigation carried out by the U.S. Geological Department estimated the death toll at 283, 000 people (Ramalanjaona 3).  Most of the tourists who died in the disaster were from Sweden (Ramalanjaona 3).  However, after the relief agencies discovered most missing people, the death toll was reduced to around 186,000(Ramalanjaona 3). The earthquake also led to the displacement of thousands of people from their homes. Most of the people living in the affected areas practiced fishing. Consequently, they lost their homes and means of livelihood (Ramalanjaona 3). Tourism, one of the highest foreign income earners of the affected countries like Indonesia and Thailand was negatively affected. Tourists avoided the islands for the fear of a reoccurrence of the tsunami. Consequently, the economies of the countries ended up taking a stumble (Ramalanjaona 3). Another adverse effect of the disaster is the psychological trauma experienced by the victims of the earthquake. The pain of burying dead relatives and caring for the sick took a toll on people. Governments and intergovernmental organizations had to deploy psychologists and counselors to help the victims cope with the aftermath of the disaster.

Recommended Evacuation Plan

In copying the Japanese disaster evacuation plan, the governments of the affected countries should establish evacuation signboards (Scheer et al.8). These will provide the direction of the flight routes to be used to leave the affected islands to the next available shelter. The signboards are to have written on them the name of the shelter in both the local and English languages to cater for the indigenous people and the foreign tourists. The government should also build emergency vertical shelter buildings along the beaches to provide a safe ground for the affected people in case of disasters (Scheer et al. 8). In copying the Hawaiian emergency disaster evacuation plan, the affected countries should have state-wide caution structures. These include radio-controlled and solar-powered sirens that are tested weekly and linked to all media stations. In the case of any warning, the sirens broadcast the notice to the media stations who report it to the people (Scheer et al. 10). 

The governments should also establish emergency operations centers that will alert responsible agencies in case of an incoming tsunami. The agencies will then coordinate the closure of schools and offices in the potential risk areas (Scheer et al. 10). The government agencies tasked with the evacuation efforts are also to set up evacuation maps in front of telephone booths in the areas. The people are to use these maps for guidance on alternate evacuation routes (Scheer et al. 10). Finally, the government in anticipation of the disaster should deploy emergency evacuation staff that will include psychologists to help the affected persons when the disaster occurs (Scheer et al. 10). 


The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake not only affected a few countries but almost the whole planet. It led to the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and negatively impacted the economies of countries such as Indonesia, India, and Thailand. However, the disaster also brought about some positive consequences that people cannot ignore. The discovery of the long-lost Indian city with its accompanying lion and elephant relics and the peace agreement between the rebel group and the government of Indonesia were as a result of the earthquake disaster. To avoid a repeat of the tragedies experienced in the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster, countries bordering the ocean need to enact effective natural disaster evacuation plans.  They can take cues from the recommendations provided in the paper. Only then, will they be ready for the next tsunami.

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