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
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
According to Wikipedia:
"The first warning sign of a possible tsunami is the earthquake itself;
however, tsunamis can strike thousands of miles away, where the earthquake
is only felt weakly or not at all. Also, in the minutes preceding a tsunami
strike the sea often recedes temporarily from the coast. People in Pacific
regions are more familiar with tsunamis and often recognize this phenomenon
as a sign to head for higher ground. However, around the Indian Ocean, this
rare sight reportedly induced people, especially children, to visit the
coast to investigate and collect stranded fish on as much as 2.5 km (1.6
miles) of exposed beach, with fatal results..."
"One of the few coastal areas to evacuate ahead of the tsunami was on the
Indonesian island of
very close to the epicentre. Island folklore recounted an earthquake and
tsunami in 1907 and the islanders fled to inland hills after the initial
shaking â€" before the tsunami struck...On Maikhao beach in northern
Phuket, Thailand, a 10 year old British girl named Tilly Smith had studied
tsunamis in geography class at school and recognized the warning sign of the
receding ocean. She and her parents warned others on the beach, which was
evacuated safely." 3
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:
"The evacuees [from New Orleans], most of them black and poor, spoke of
violence, anarchy and family members who died for lack of food, water and
medical care." 8
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:
"Bush administration officials
blamed state and local authorities for what leaders at all levels have called a
failure of the country's emergency management." 8
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:
Secularists generally attribute the cause of the disaster to purely
natural forces and processes which are neither supportive, nor opposed, nor
even aware of human life.
Many conservative religious leaders say that the tsunami is a message
from God or a manifestation of God's wrath. Unfortunately, they disagree
on what that message is, or the specific sins over which God is angry.
Many religious liberals do not perceive any deep meaning as to why the tsunami
happened. However, they feel that God inspires those not affected by the tragedy to send
financial support to the victims. God also supports the victims in their
Beliefnet.com conducted a poll of their visitors. 9 They asked the question: "Does
God have a role in natural disasters like hurricanes?." The poll had
46% chose "Although I believe in God, the supernatural has nothing
to do with any specific natural disaster.
29% chose "Disasters are sent by God, but we don't know what the
12% chose "Yes. God is testing us."
8% chose "God doesn't exist, and disasters like this are just forces
6% chose: "Yes. God is punishing us."
Beliefnet covers all aspects of religion -- Christian and non-Christian;
liberal and conservative. We suspect that religious conservatives were
under-represented in this poll.
How people handle the news of the disaster:
People of various faiths interpret the events differently:
Non-theists -- people who have no belief in the existence of a personal God -- include Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, some free-thinkers, etc. They may find it easier than others to accept these tragedies. Not believing in a
all-powerful, supernatural deity who micro-manages the world, they can accept that:
Earthquakes are the caused by tectonic plates rupturing deep in the earth.
Tsunamis are the natural result of certain strong earthquakes,
Hurricanes are purely naturally occurring events.
They need look no further than purely physical forces to understand the
tragedy. There is no further meaning to the cause of the disaster. Natural forces and processes
neither protect us nor attempt to harm us. They have no
consciousness and are unaware of our existence.
Many conservative theists, believe that God controls all events as they happen. They may find
the loss of life and devastation resulting from these disasters difficult to handle,
particularly when they consider that such a large percentage of the fatalities involved children and the poor -- people for whom Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) exhibited major concern during his ministry.
Some more liberal theists do not view God as being involved in every happening. They do not hold God responsible for initiating or directing the
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.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Manuel Roig-Franzia and Spencer Hsu, "White House shifts blame for Katrina response. Administration, embattled FEMA chief
point to state, local officials," The Washington Post, 2005-SEP-04, at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/