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Dec 25, 2004

Note: the death toll soon climbed to over 40,000.

Tidal Waves Kill More Than 3,900 in Asia

The world´s most powerful earthquake in 40 years triggered massive tidal waves that slammed into villages and seaside resorts across Asia on Sunday, killing more than 3,900 people in six countries. Tourists, fishermen, homes and cars were swept away by walls of water up to 20 feet high that swept across the Bay of Bengal, unleashed by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake centered off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. In Sri Lanka, 1,000 miles west of the epicenter, more than 2,150 people were killed, the prime minister´s office said. Indian officials said as many as 1,130 died along the southern coast. At least 408 died on Sumatra from floods and collapsing buildings. Another 168 were confirmed dead in Thailand, 42 in Malaysia and 2 in Bangladesh. But officials expected the death toll to rise dramatically, with hundreds reported missing and all communications cut off to Sumatran towns closest to the epicenter. Hundreds of bodies were found on various beaches along India´s southern state of Tamil Nadu, and more were expected to be washed in by the sea, officials said.

The rush of waves brought to sudden disaster to people carrying out their daily activities on the ocean´s edge: Sunbathers on the beaches of the Thai resort of Phuket were washed away; a group of 32 Indians — including 15 children — were killed while taking a ritual Hindu bath to mark the full moon day; fishing boats, with their owners clinging to their sides, were picked up by the waves and tossed away. All the planet is vibrating from the quake, said Enzo Boschi, the head of Italy´s National Geophysics Institute. Speaking on SKY TG24 TV, Boschi said the quake even disturbed the Earth´s rotation. The U.S. Geological Survey (news - web sites) measured the quake at a magnitude of 8.9. Geophysicist Julie Martinez said it was the world´s fifth-largest since 1900 and the largest since a 9.2 temblor hit Prince William Sound Alaska in 1964.

Initial damage centered in the Indonesian province of Aceh on northern Sumatra. Dozens of buildings were destroyed, but as elsewhere, much of the death toll appeared to come from onrushing floodwaters. Towns nearest the epicenter were leveled by tidal waves. An Associated Press reporter saw bodies wedged in trees as the waters receded. More bodies littered the beaches. The worst known death tolls so far were in Sri Lanka and southern India. An AP photographer saw two dozen bodies along a four-mile stretch of beach, some of children entangled in the wire mesh used to barricade seaside homes. Other bodies were brought up from the beach, wrapped in sarongs and laid on the road, while rows of men and women lined the roads asking if anyone had seen their relatives. Around one million people were displaced from their homes, Weerathunga said. In India, beaches were turned into virtual open-air mortuaries, with bodies of people caught in the tidal wave being washed ashore. Some 800 deaths were reported in Tamil Nadu state, Home Minister Shivraj Patil said. In Andhra Pradesh state, 200 were reported; 102 were killed in Pondicherry.