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Asian Tsunami Kills More than 12,000

A tsunami triggered by a massive undersea earthquake off the coast of Indonesia smashed into coastal areas of the Indian Ocean ring nations on Sunday, destroying villages, flooding cities and killing more than 12,000 people.


The 8.9-magnitude quake, the most powerful one in four decades, struck just before 8:00 AM local time off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, about 1,620 kilometers northwest of Jakarta, according to the US Geological Survey. It was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks.


The death toll is increasing as bodies continue to be washed ashore, while thousands were reported missing. Tens of thousands fled the coasts for higher ground, fearing aftershocks and further flood surges. 



In Sri Lanka, one of the hardest-hit countries, the death toll climbed to 4,500 and about 1 million people were displaced. The Sri Lankan government declared a national disaster.


Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was on a private visit to Britain, will cut short her visit and to return to Sri Lanka. She has called for international assistance in dealing with the country's worst-ever humanitarian crisis.


In Indonesia, the health ministry said at least 4,185 people were killed and hundreds more were missing.


Ministry officials said at least 3,000 of those killed, either from flooding or quake damage, were in the provincial capital Banda Aceh. About 100 were killed in neighboring north Sumatra Province and on the island of Nias, to the west of Sumatra and close to the epicenter of quake.


Some 50,000 people had fled their homes and taken refuge in government offices or other buildings on higher ground while hundreds were still unaccounted for.



In India, officials put the death toll to 2,300 in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherr as waves swept away boats, homes and vehicles.


The death toll to is expected to rise as reports of missing fishermen were pouring in from dozens of villages along the state's 1,000-kilometer-long coastline. Some 700 fishermen were reported missing in Prakasam district alone


Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha said 1,500 deaths have been recorded in her state.


Around 50 kilometers from Chennai, Tamil Nadu's capital, seawater seeped into the nuclear power plant at Kalpakkam, forcing it to shut down. A special Indian Army unit was mobilized to deal with the situation and the Crisis Management Group said the plant was "fully safe."



This was one of the worst tragedies to hit India since the January 2001 when an earthquake in Gujarat killed nearly 25,000.


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured the states hit by the disaster that they would receive relief and rehabilitation assistance, and appealed to the people to remain calm.


In Thailand, government officials reported that 257 people have been confirmed dead and more than 5,447 injured. Many more remain missing in the country's southern resort islands, including an unknown number of holidaymakers from abroad.


Rear Admiral Pheerasan Watcharamoon, deputy commander of the 2nd Navy Division, said that the Navy had sent ships to pick up tourists and local residents from Phi Phi and several other islands in the vicinity. Nearly 4,000 people were stranded on Phi Phi.



In Malaysia, at least 42 people were killed on the resort island of Penang, police and government officials said.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US state of Hawaii reportedly detected the tsunami more than an hour before it hit Thailand or the other countries, but was unable to alert warning centers in any of the areas in the killer wave's path.


Tsunamis occur when a major earthquake causes a significant shift in undersea tectonic plates. The vertical shift causes displacement of the water above it, and waves are formed as the displaced water attempts to regain its equilibrium.


The velocity of the tsunami is related to the depth of the water: it may travel through the ocean at speeds of more than 800 kilometers per hour, but at a height of only a few centimeters. As the same tsunami enters the shallow coastal areas and slows, it can reach heights of up to 45 meters.


Sunday's tsunami was reported to rise to heights of about 10 meters.


(Xinhua News Agency December 27, 2004)


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