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Japan quakes remind of 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that killed 2.5 lakh

2024-01-01 10:15:05

Like Monday, January 1, 2024, it too was a laid-back day. It was the Boxing Day of 2004. The world was into a holiday mode and had participated in Christmas celebrations.

Tourists were vacationing and locals were slowly going about their daily lives in South East Asia.

That is when the tsunami waves struck.

A series of earthquakes on Monday left Japan scurrying as 5-foot-high tsunami waves hit its coast. Tsunami alerts were also issued in Russia and North Korea.

There were 21 earthquakes of over 4 magnitude and the 5-foot-high tsunami waves that resulted from them reminded people of the horrors of what has remained as the devastating Boxing Day tsunami of 2004.

On that day, December 26, 2004, the world witnessed one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in modern history. The human toll was staggering. Around 250,000 lives were lost in a single day, and over 1.7 million people were left homeless.

The Boxing Day Tsunami, triggered by a colossal undersea earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, unleashed an energy equivalent to 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs.

This seismic event caused massive waves that radiated across the Indian Ocean at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour, reaching far beyond the epicenter and affecting 18 countries in Southeast Asia and Southern Africa.

The tsunami did not discriminate; it claimed the lives of locals and tourists alike, leaving a trail of destruction that would take years to rebuild.

Coastal communities were decimated, families torn apart, and livelihoods shattered.

In Indonesia alone, the province of Aceh bore the brunt, with significant agricultural land destroyed, irrigation canals damaged, and tens of thousands of farmers displaced.

In India, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 10,749 people and 5,640 went missing.


The environmental impact was equally devastating. Coral reefs, mangroves, and coastal wetlands, crucial for biodiversity and as natural barriers against such events, were severely damaged.

The economic repercussions were felt worldwide, with the fishing and tourism industries suffering immense losses. The damage was estimated at roughly $13 billion (2017 dollars), highlighting the extensive reach of the disaster’s consequences.

Countries like Somalia, Myanmar, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives faced the brunt of the waves, with no warning systems in place to alert the unsuspecting populations. The waves wiped out entire communities, especially those reliant on fishing, leaving nothing but debris in their wake.

In the aftermath, the international community responded swiftly. Emergency relief efforts focused on meeting survival needs and restoring basic services. International aid organisations provided shelter, clean water, and blankets to tens of thousands. Reconstruction of houses and infrastructure began, and long-term community rehabilitation projects were initiated.

The disaster also served as a wake-up call for the global community on the importance of disaster preparedness.


The Indian Ocean region, particularly the islands more than 1,000 miles from the epicentre, recognised the need for a robust tsunami warning system and better communication networks.

International meetings were convened to develop tsunami warning and mitigation systems and to coordinate national and regional efforts. Countries such as Madagascar developed comprehensive national plans, which included early warning systems, public awareness campaigns, and drills.

India took the lead and the region established a tsunami early warning system on October 15, 2007. The Early Warning Centre receives real-time seismic data from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and other international bodies.

The Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 remains a sombre reminder of nature’s might and the fragility of human life. It underscored the importance of international solidarity and the need for collective action in the face of disaster.

As Japan is jolted by a series of quakes on January 1 and sees tsunami waves, our memories are back to the fateful day of 2004 when nature’s fury shattered millions of lives.

The lessons learnt from that fateful day continue to shape disaster management programs worldwide, ensuring that the lives lost were not in vain and that the survivors’ stories of resilience and recovery inspire us all.

Published On:

Jan 1, 2024

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