The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Earth churn spawns killer

Dec. 26: Over 11,000 people died a day after Christmas when the world's biggest earthquake in four decades and a train of waves it churned up in the sea smashed India and six other countries in south Asia.

Some 3,100 people were feared killed in India alone this morning when a tsunami ' a chain of high waves ' crashed into the shores of the three coastal states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala and the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

The earthquake struck at 6.29 am (IST) off the Indonesian island of Sumatra and swung north with multiple tremors into the Andamans, where the southern cluster of islands from Car Nicobar to Indira Point were the worst affected with communication lines almost completely broken down.

Casualties were high in Sri Lanka ' over 3,500 ' which appealed for emergency international aid, a request India immediately responded to.

The Indian government itself faced the daunting task of repairing the lives and property of lakhs of people almost all along the Tamil Nadu coast from Chennai in the north to Kanyakumari in the south. Huge waves rising up to a maximum of 10 metres entered homes and flooded fishing villages, all within 15 minutes. Officials said over 1,500 people were dead.

Four minutes after the earthquake struck Indonesia, tremors were felt in Tamil Nadu at 6.33, sending people rushing out of homes in Chennai. According to witnesses, the first wave from the sea crashed into the shore about an hour later, between 7.30 and 7.45. It was followed by two more waves.

A witness at Tiruvottiyur in north Chennai said: 'Huge ferocious sheets of sea water simply broke open into the coast and nothing else could be seen for a while.'

Another 200 were estimated to have died in Andhra and 100 in Kerala.

A PTI report from Port Blair quoted the inspector-general of police of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, S.B. Deol, as saying: 'Three hundred are confirmed dead, mostly in worst-hit Car Nicobar, while 700 are untraced for a long time and believed to be dead. The death toll will go up to at least 1,000.'

In Indonesia, where the killer convulsions began, over 4,400 people lost their lives but it was not clear if the deaths had been caused by the quake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale or the tsunami.

This is the third time an earthquake has struck a day after Christmas. On December 26 last year, 41,000 people were killed in a quake in Iran's Bam. On the same date in 1939, 33,000 people died when Turkey was devastated.

There were reports of raging waters washing residents out to sea and tearing children from their parents' arms in the Indonesian provinces of rebellious Aceh and North Sumatra. In neighbouring Malaysia, lashed by the tsunami, at least 28 people died and many were missing at sea.

As the wall of water raced across thousands of miles over sea, it swamped tourist isles in Thailand and Maldives and, driving through the Andaman Sea, struck southeast Myanmar where 10 people died in a bridge collapse.

Two-thirds of the Maldives capital, Male, was flooded and officials voiced anxiety for the fate of dozens of low-lying, palm-ringed coral atolls crowded with tourists from around the world. India is sending help to Maldives.

In Thailand, around 280 people had been killed and more than 1,000 injured, officials said. They said more than 600 tourists and locals were being evacuated by air and sea from Ko Phi Phi, the tiny island made famous by the 2000 film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Officials reported that a wave 5 to 10 metres high hit hotel-lined beaches in the popular Thai resort Phuket.

'There would be a surge and then it would retreat and then there would be a next surge which was more violent and it went on like that,' said Paul Ramsbottom, a tourist.

'Then there was this one almighty surge. I mean literally this was the one which was picking up pickup trucks and motorcycles and throwing them around in front of us.'

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