1. The south Asian tsunami of 2004:
A magnitude 9.15 undersea earthquake occurred just north of Simeulue island, off of Indonesia's Sumatra Island on the morning of 2004-DEC-26. It was at a depth of 30 km (19 miles), extended over about 1,200 km (over 700 miles), and caused a sudden rise in the adjacent seabed by several meters. The total energy released was equivalent to about five hundred megatons of TNT. This was more than 200 times the total explosives used during World War II -- including the two nuclear bombs. It caused the crust of the entire Earth to vibrate by at least a few centimeters. It triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska. Reverberations could still be detected by sensitive instruments a week later. It altered the Earth's rotational speed, shortening each day by about 3 microseconds.
There have been only two other earthquakes of greater magnitude since the year 1900. In all three cases, the rise in the seabed displaced sufficient water to generate a massive tsunami (a.k.a. teletsunami, ocean surge, tidal wave). The south Asian tsunami was described as "one of the deadliest disasters in modern history." 2 As many as 280,000 persons are believed to have died -- half of them in Indonesia. The dead are mainly comprised of local citizens who are followers of the Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim faiths, and about 9,000 vacationing foreigners who were primarily Christians, Jews and secularists. Over a million were left homeless. Massive devastation was caused to costal areas from Indonesia to South Africa, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South India, Thailand, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar.
According to Wikipedia:
The suffering could have been worse. The magnitude of the disaster promoted a response from people around the world who sent help.
A tragic aspect to this disaster was that scientists were able to measure the magnitude of the earthquake quickly, to realize that it would probably create a devastating tsunami, but had no way to alert some of the governments of countries that lay in the probable path of the tsunami. Many if not most of the fatalities could have been prevented if such a system was in place. As of early 2014, a warning system has been installed in South Asia, and is being expanded worldwide.
2. The Katrina hurricane of 2005, affecting New Orleans, Mississippi and much of the rest of Louisiana:
The English word "hurricane" comes from "Hurukan," the West Indian God of storms. The name "Katrina" means blessed, pure, and holy.
On 2005-AUG-25, Katrina, as a mild Category 1 hurricane, struck south Florida. Its classification was raised to Category 4 as it passed over the Gulf of Mexico. It hit New Orleans on August 29. 4 Since most of the land in New Orleans is below sea level, the city is protected by a levee. Unfortunately, it was designed to be capable of withstanding only about a Category 3 hurricane. The levee was breeched in three places, leaving nearly 80% of the city under water. Damage was extensive in other Gulf Coast cities, including Gulfport, MS; Biloxi, MS; and Mobile, AL. Katrina was reclassified as a tropical storm as it passed over central Mississippi. 5 By the time it reached Lake Ontario, it had become only a heavy rain, dumping about two inches of precipitation.
Estimates of the death toll differ. Hurricane Katrina Relief estimates the loss of life at 1,836. 6 Robert Lindsay in his "Beyond Highbrow" blog estimates: 1,723 deaths directly caused by Katrina, and 2,358, direct and indirect deaths for a total of 4,081 deaths. 7 Hundreds of thousands were dislocated; a quarter million went into Texas alone. The Washington Post reported:
Many had no homes, assets, or jobs to which to return. Property damage was immense.
Within a week, the finger pointing began. Many media commentators place much of the blame on the Federal government's lack of planning for such a event, and their sluggishness in responding to the disaster. According to the Washington Post:
Why do major disasters happen?
People ask why massive disasters happen. The question goes to the very heart of various religions' concepts of God and of the workings of the universe:
How people handle the news of the disaster:
People of various faiths interpret the events differently:
A Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or non-theistic parent does not grieve less than a Christian parent on the death of their child. Theists can perhaps take solace in the belief that God cares for the victims and morns with the survivors. Non-theists can perhaps adjust to the tragedy by realizing that it was not caused by a vengeful God; rather it was the result of blind processes in the Earth.
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