Seismic Events Collaborative Essay

Group Members: Rachel Margalit, Stella Boothby, Lauren Bromfield, Lily Conroy, Ivan West, Garrett Benson, Emily Rechlin

The Story of The Boxing Day Tsunami

The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami occurred on December 26th, 2004, when 17 entire countries were impacted by this devastating seismic event that occurred in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. One of the deadliest disasters, with a striking magnitude of 9.1, more than 200,000 people’s lives were lost and thousands of homes were destroyed. This is known to be the largest earthquake in history since the year 1960, stretching from a total of 800 miles long and lasting 10 minutes, releasing energy equivalent to several thousand Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. The quake originated in a so-called megathrust fault, where heavy oceanic plates subduct beneath lighter continental plates and this occurs all underwater. After about 20 minutes, the first wave with a speed of 500 mph crashed in and hit the city of Banda Aceh. The wave heights widely varied across the regions based on the location of the source of the earthquake, creating a plethora of negative impacts amongst the areas affected. The Northern Sumatra wave, for example, reached up to 167 feet, causing flooding up to three miles inland. The destruction left behind was unfathomable in both lives lost and physical destruction to these areas. 

A multitude of areas were impacted by this seismic event, including regions all across the Indonesia area. This tsunami was responsible for impacts observed in 17 countries spanning from Asia and Africa. The waves spanned across many countries, including the northeastern coast of Somalia seven hours after the initial earthquake. The image above depicts the aftermath of the tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where very few buildings survived.

About 1.7 million people were displaced, with a total damage estimated at roughly 13 billion dollars, costing Indonesia alone 6 billion dollars. This impacted a significant population of people, forcing them to relocate and rebuild due to this unexpected event. The effects of this event became so drastic, that the earthquake itself caused a shift in the earth’s mass, changing the planet’s rotation. This event was so powerful, that something as extreme as shifting the Earth’s mass occurred. This can create rising sea levels, melting ice caps, and more extreme seasons, and can impact the earth’s overall rotation. Indonesia lies between the “Pacific Ring of Fire”, where ninety percent of the earthquakes occur — making this the second most active seismic zone. Many people who made their living by fishing lost that source of income; the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported how the tsunami affected significant agricultural land. In other words, this seismic event destroyed irrigation canals affecting about 92,000 farms, and over 300,000 people concerning their fishing and agricultural needs. Furthermore, an estimated 62,000 groundwater wells were contaminated by seawater, wastewater, and sewage, rendering them useless.  Not only was agriculture majorly affected, but also “waves and wave-carried debris devastated once-thriving communities, destroying homes, businesses, basic services, critical infrastructure, the environment, livelihoods, and entire economies.” The inundation of saltwater damaged soils, vegetation, and crops. “Together, the earthquake and tsunami changed the landscape of many Indian Ocean coastal communities. Coastal erosion and subsidence caused some shorelines to disappear into the ocean while, in some areas, uplift forced coral reefs to rise above its surface.” This highlights the environmental disparities that occurred from the strength of both the earthquake and tsunami combined. This domino effect caused by the simultaneous destruction created a multitude of issues that continuously got worse throughout the entirety of these seismic events. 

After this tragic event occurred, several forms of artwork emerged from this seismic event, creating a beautiful remembrance of the hardships faced by those who were affected. In memory of the lives lost and the tragedy of this event, many memorial statues were made to recognize the people affected. In addition, floating vessels were designed for a competition entry for public artwork in Norway to commemorate the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. The hollow vessels raise awareness of time, nature, and tidal movement by floating at high tide and staying supported above the sea during low tide. Another piece of artwork that has emerged from this seismic event is the memorial commemorating the 2004 tsunami. The copper-colored sculpture symbolizes the height and color of the massive waves. The time on the clock is stopped before 8 am. , the moment when the earthquake struck that unleashed the tsunami. Furthermore, The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall paid tribute to the people who died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami at the opening of a memorial in London’s Natural History Museum. This piece served as a memory of 155 British citizens who died during this tsunami, all names of the victims are engraved on the floor.

There have also been a few movies that have come from this event. A movie entitled “The Impossible” is based on the true story of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and has been critically acclaimed. It depicts a family’s experience of fighting to survive while watching all of the destruction. Lastly, we found a memorial that was put in place to commemorate the 2004 Tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. The memorial consists of a fishing boat that crashed on top of a house during the storm. Visitors can climb a ramp to the roof and also walk underneath where it’s wedged between two dwellings. The boat provided a refuge for 56 survivors. In addition to the movie, there was a series of narrative scrolls from a village of painters from West Bengal. According to the website Indigo Arts, the scrolls “graphically depict the terrible events of the tsunami of December 26, 2004. Organized by the Asian Heritage Foundation in India, the scrolls were produced and marketed as a means of fundraising for tsunami relief”. It is important for these communities to recognize and use art as a way to express and commemorate the experiences through the lens of the families affected by this period of adversity. 

Jemisin’s trilogy often explores themes of catastrophe and rebuilding of society. The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami represent a real-life example of a devastating event that caused widespread disaster, destruction, and loss of life. By examining how society was able to rebuild and respond to this tsunami, we can also gain insight into the themes that are also present in Jemisin’s work. Natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami also explore how marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by such events, as they do not have the resources to rebuild and respond to such tragedies. Similarly, Jemisin’s trilogy often explores systematic issues of oppression, highlighting ways in which such communities struggle when they are impacted by conflict. For example, the novel notes “…what is important is that you know it was not all terrible. There was peace in long stretches, between each crisis. A chance to cool and solidify before the grind resumes.” (Fifth Season, online 263). Jemisin highlights how these horrible effects cause a rift between society and its environment. However, it also forces individuals to join together to rebuild what has been taken from them. The tsunami of December 26, 2004, is an example of this, as it raised awareness in coastal communities around the world about the threat posed by tsunamis. This collaboration of society led to significant advances in tsunami detection, forecasting, warning, and preparedness. Following the 2004 tsunami, there were significant efforts made to provide aid and resources to the community that lost so much. These efforts aimed to address the immediate needs of survivors attempting to provide aid for long-term recovery. Jemisin’s work also explores themes of reparative justice and collective healing following societal traumas and injustices. Despite the devastation, both the real-world disaster and the fictional narrative emphasize resilience and finding hope after chaos. Communities come together to rebuild and recover, showcasing the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. The survivors of the 2004 tsunami faced immense challenges in rebuilding their lives and communities. Similarly, characters in Jemisin’s trilogy must navigate a harsh and unforgiving world, showcasing themes of resilience, adaptation, and survival against overwhelming odds. 

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