Boxing Day 2004.

Thailand is a developing country in Southeast Asia.  Most of its economy depends on agriculture (rice); then on manufacturing (look at the labels of whatever you bought at Walmart); and then on tourism (15-20 percent of the economy).  Tourists come to Thailand for many reasons.  The climate is tropical, it has beautiful beaches, and it has amazing cultural sites.[1]  One of the best places is Phuket (Foo-ket, not something else that might occur to you), an island off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea.  It has some gorgeous beaches (or so I’m told) and the cost of living is very low.  There’s an airport that handles almost 3 million travelers a year.  There are many luxury hotels, but they aren’t allowed to mess with the beaches.  As a result, it’s full of foreign tourists and European expat retirees.

Just before 1:00 AM on 26 December 2004, the Indian tectonic plate slid over the Burmese plate somewhere between the island of Simeulue and the west coast of Sumatra a hundred odd miles away.  This natural process caused a violent undersea earthquake in the eastern Indian Ocean.  All along the fault, one plate moved upward suddenly.[2]  The shock sent off waves called tsunamis.  The waves headed in all directions, but most importantly to the west and to the east.[3]   It is possible to create tsunami warning systems.  However, the sensor systems themselves are expensive; then there is the complicated issue of how to warn people ashore once a tsunami has been detected; and then there is the problem of what to do in a coastal plain when you have been warned that a tsunami is sweeping down on you.[4]  The poor countries surrounding the Indian Ocean didn’t have a warning system.  In any event, the waves reached northern Sumatra in 15 minutes.

In deep water, the waves move very fast, but don’t have any great height.  When they hit the shallows close to shore, they slow down and achieve great height.[5]  On a long stretch of the west coast of Sumatra and Indonesia, the waves were 8o feet high when they came ashore and travelled inland for as much as a mile.

The waves hit different parts of the Indian Ocean littoral at different times.  Indonesia and Thailand are “developing countries.”  One result of their state of economic development is that there is a shortage of “hard” structures made out of reinforced concrete, a shortage of roads, shortage of landline and cell-phone communications, and a shortage of emergency services.  The waves killed between 185,000 and 230,000 people, and laid waste the towns of northern Indonesia and western Thailand.

One last thing.  Tilly Smith was vacationing at Phuket, Thailand, with her parents.  She saw the sea receding from the shore and bubbles all over the surface.  She had just finished a geography lesson in school about tsunamis.  She told her parents; her parents—who were smart enough to have a kid like Tilly—warned people at the beach; and, amazingly, all the other Brits on the beach “scarpered” before the wave arrived.  Nobody got killed.  Tilly was 10 years old.[6]

[1] It also has a lot of poverty-stricken, but beautiful young people.  As a result, sad to say, international sex-tourism is a major revenue source.

[2] When the 300-pound William Howard Taft was President of the United States, his Secret Service bodyguards warned off other swimmers at Cape May, saying that “the president is using the ocean.”

[3] There is a GIF of the shock waves at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/2004_Indonesia_Tsunami_Complete.gif  Must have made for great surfing off Mozambique.  OK, that’s callous.

[4] Bend over and kiss your ass good-bye?

[5] See: Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat.”  http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/crane/open.htm

[6] But go ahead, keeping checking your cell-phones while I’m talking.  See: Charles Darwin.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s