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Ocean of sorrow: one of the worst natural disasters ever sparks the largest relief effort in history.

The morning after Christmas, thousands of people--including American tourists--relaxed on the sunny beaches of Sri Lanka and Thailand. They had no idea that the largest earthquake in 40 years had just erupted beneath the Indian Ocean. The epicenter was about 155 miles west of the Indonesian island of Sumatra (see map).

The quake, which registered 9.0 on the Richter scale, caused a rupture in a stretch of seafloor, displacing massive amounts of water and starting a tsunami. Soon, waves as high as 30 feet began to pound beaches, swallowing entire villages.

An American staying at a Thai resort described what he and his wife experienced that morning. "The water rushed under the bungalow, brought our floor up, and raised us to the ceiling," John Krueger of Winter Park, Colorado, told the Associated Press. "It was like being in a washing machine."

Within hours, waves crashed onto the shores of about a dozen countries in South Asia and East Africa. Officials said more than 150,000 people were killed--many of them children. Countless others were seriously injured.

No Warning

As the ocean waters receded, the devastation was evident--from Indonesia to the Indian coast to East Africa, 3,000 miles from the quake's epicenter. Waves had destroyed homes and bridges, while cars and boats drifted along flooded roads. Amid the rubble, dazed residents and tourists searched desperately for loved ones.

The survivors face daunting obstacles. An estimated 5 million people have lost their homes. Many also lack adequate supplies of food and clean water. Health officials say that infectious diseases such as cholera could claim even more lives.

The scale of the tragedy caused many people to ask: Why was there no warning? Nations that border the Pacific Ocean, where tsunamis are relatively common, are protected by an early-warning system. But the Indian Ocean, where the last major tsunami occurred in 1883, has no such system. Although experts had told Asian officials about the danger their countries faced, concerns about cost and maintenance always stalled development.

Plans to put a system in place are now under way, but experts advise that warnings must be accompanied by education campaigns. "You need to tell people how they are going to get information in an emergency, and what to do about it," Kenneth Allen, the executive director of the Partnership for Public Warning, told The New Fork Times. "If you wait until the emergency occurs, it's too late."

Geologists in the U.S. say the Pacific Northwest could be hit by a tsunami. Although less likely, a tsunami could also hit the Atlantic coast. But warning systems already in place would hopefully minimize the loss of life.

Relief Efforts

As survivors of the disaster struggle to put their lives back together, countries around the world continue to send food, money, medical equipment, and other supplies. But coordinating the largest relief effort in history has proved difficult, especially in remote areas where roads and bridges were damaged or washed away, and fuel is scarce.

Amid all the sorrow, people have clung to dramatic tales of survival. One man exclaimed, after his 2-year-old nephew was found alive on a road in Thailand, "This is a miracle--the biggest thing that could happen."

Words to Know

cholera (KAHL-er-ah): an intestinal infection caused by the ingestion of contaminated water or food.

tsunami (tsoo-NAH-mee): a towering wave, or series of waves, triggered by an underwater earthquake, landslide, or volcanic eruption.

Your Turn

THINK ABOUT IT

1. Why were people not warned about the tsunami?

2. Would you like to help? See your Teacher's Edition for information.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:News Special
Author:McCabe, Suzanne
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 24, 2005
Words:596
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