On 2020 December 26 a two minutes silence was observed across the country in Sri Lanka at 9:25 AM in remembrance of the lives lost in the 2004 tsunami on that Boxing Day that hit the coastline of many countries in the Indian Ocean.
Over 16 years ago the devastating 2004 Tsunami hit coastal areas in
the Indian Ocean. On the morning of December 26, 2004, a 30 meter high wave struck 1000 kilometers of Sri Lankan coastline without warning, devastating hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods. The tsunami, which was the most devastating natural disaster in Sri
Lanka’s history, resulted in losses of over $1 billion in assets and
$330 million in potential output, according to government estimates.
Approximately 35,000 people died or went missing. The damage included 110,000 houses, of which 70,000 were completely destroyed. Around 250,000 families lost their means of support.
In Sri Lanka (figures for all fourteen affected countries are shown in bracket) there were 35,322 (~230,273) dead, 21,411 (~125,000) injured and 516,150 ( ~1.74million) displaced.
The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake that occurred at 00:58:53 UTC on Sunday, 26 December 2004, with an epicenter off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia known as the Sumatra–Andaman earthquake and the resulting tsunami was called the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The earthquake was caused when the Indian Plate was sub ducted by the Burma Plate and triggered a series of devastating tsunamis along the
coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean, killing over 230,000 people in fourteen countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 meters high.
It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. The sudden vertical rise of the seabed by several meters during the
earthquake displaced massive volumes of water, resulting in a tsunami that struck the coasts of the Indian Ocean.
The energy released on the Earth’s surface by the 2004 Indian Ocean
earthquake and tsunami was equivalent to over 1500 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The vast majority of total work by this quake was done underground and based on the energy consumption of United States 2005 figures is about 370 years of energy.
The earthquake generated a seismic oscillation of the Earth’s surface of up to 20–30 cm, equivalent to the effect of the tidal forces caused by the Sun and
Moon. The shock waves of the earthquake were felt as far away as the U.S. state of Oklahoma, where vertical movements of 3 mm were recorded. By February 2005, the earthquake’s effects were still detectable as a 20 µm complex harmonic oscillation of the Earth’s surface, which gradually diminished and merged with the incessant free oscillation of the Earth. The shift of mass and the massive release of energy very slightly altered the Earth’s rotation, the exact amount is not yet known.
There was 10 m movement laterally and 4–5 m vertically along the fault line. Some of the smaller islands south-west of Sumatra, which is on the Burma Plate, moved south-west by up to about 20 cm. Since movement was vertical as well as lateral, some coastal areas have been moved to below sea level. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands appear to have shifted south-west by around 1.25 m and to have sunk by 1 m. More spectacularly, there was 10 m movement laterally and 4–5 m
vertically along the fault line.
This 2005 Tsunami catastrophe exposed huge gaps in how prepared our country was to deal with natural disasters. Despite a lag of up to several hours between the earthquake and the impact of the tsunami, nearly all of the victims were taken completely by surprise.
Then there were no tsunami warning systems in the Indian Ocean to detect tsunamis or to warn the general populace living around the ocean.
Tsunami detection is not
easy because while a tsunami is in deep water it has little height and
a network of sensors is needed to detect it.
Setting up the communications infrastructure to issue timely warnings is an even bigger problem, particularly in a relatively poor part of the world.
2004 Tsunami and my family
Living in Colombo, with my family I travelled by road to our roots in Jaffna. As the civil-war was still on, it was a long tiring, but adventurous journey for we had to go through security check points, into controlled area and out of it into the peninsula.
We hired a large van for the long journey. Inside the peninsula hired the van as needed. It was at Casurina Beach in Jaffna, we encountered the 2004 Tsunami, as we had come down to Jaffna on a holiday.
On that fateful day, we went with my eldest sister to Casurina Beach in Karinagar about 2km away
from her place in Moolai, where we had stayed overnight.
We reached the beach around 9 am, after we had spent 15 minutes at shops in Karainagar to purchase a film roll for the camera. Those 15 minutes made all the difference.
Our plan was to return to my brother’s place in Jaffna town for lunch after sightseeing on the way including this beach that we had frequented many times in the
At the beach, we parked our vehicle and walked few meters towards the sea. After having admired the scenery opted to get a group photo taken and handed the camera to a youth at the beach.
As we were posing for the photo, while on dry grounds and not facing the sea. All of a sudden massive volumes of water displaced due to the tsunami arrived at our location in large waves.
This was about three hours after the earthquake occurred off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. By then it had spent 75% of its energy on route coming over to the north-west coast of Sri Lanka.
The first large wave stuck us on the side at waist level and saw the youth fall into water with the camera and we too losing control fell into to the rising sea.
Before we could realise what had happened within seconds another wave taller than the first hit us and within minutes few more waves followed and we were dragged inland in different directions by the ever increasing water level.
In no time, we were in about 5 to 7 meters of water, for those days the beach floor was not level. Youngest daughter was the lucky one for she was pushed on to a ridge. She was able to anchor her feet in the sand, when after 15 minutes water started retreating back to the sea.
Fortunately, I managed to latch on to a wooden beam of an old hut that was in the beach, when water was receding into the sea.
Our son-in-law reacted fast enough to keep his head above water, grabbed my eldest daughter by one hand and my sister by the other hand, while
resting his body against the trunk of a large casurina tree to prevent
them getting dragged into the rough sea.
By now youngest daughter, who
was most alert during the crisis cried shouting that her mother was nowhere on sight. We all panicked and started calling out for her.
Water had pushed us few meters inland and we were at the place where vehicles were parked, which all were floating in the water with its heavy front end immersed in water.
While searching for my wife, we saw many others hanging holding on to nearby casurina trees. We noticed our vehicle, which was nose dipped and floating with the free end of wife’s saree floating by the side of it.
We rushed to her and managed
to pull my wife out of the path of the floating vehicle. Few minutes
late would have buried her alive in the mud by the vehicle due to its full weight.
She had inhaled lot of muddy water and was not fully conscious and had to carry her. We had to rush her to the hospital and vehicles at the beach were all not drivable.
The path from beach to the road was muddy and with broken tree trunks and barbed wire that had come loose from the damaged fence.
By now the news had gone round
and crowd started pouring into the beach to see the tragedy. This made it difficult for us to carry a sinking patient out to the hospital.
As we had to carry my wife out of the beach area, on the road others came to help and we took her in a vehicle to the nearby Base Hospital at Karinagar, where she was taken care by the house officer and we for cuts and braces received first aid at the hospital.
The Doctor advised us to take my wife to the General Hospital as her pulse rate was dropping. We
took her by ambulance to the General Hospital, where she was admitted for four days, before returning to Colombo, where it took several weeks with further medical treatment for her to return to normal life.
We still have today left some scars to remind the horrific experience. We lost the camera, our wallets and few other belongings. The vehicle had to be pulled out of the muddy beach and engine overhauled to get it back on the road.
We are thankful to have escaped death that day and let us remember the thousands who lost their life that day and share the sorrow with the grieved families.
We must thank the medical staff at Karainagar Base Hospital and the Jaffna Teaching Hospital for providing good service. Specially the Jaffna Hospital, where wife was admitted as the first tsunami victim, but within in minutes many patients arrived from Vadamarachchi region
and soon hospital ran out of beds and late arrivals had to lay on the
floor. It was very refreshing to see many medical students volunteering to assist the medical staff at the hospital.
After the 2004 tsunami Sri Lanka has put in operation a tsunami warning system and it is hoped when we face the next tsunami there will be less casualties and damages to properties. But it was a fact that due to the recent bad weather the tsunami warning system installed aroundthe island were damaged. Sri Lankans expect this matter will receive the attention of the concerned authorities at the earliest.