- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2004


MANGINAPUDI BEACH, India — The women and children had ritual baths in the sea on the occasion of the full moon, an auspicious day for Hindus. Then, the tsunami struck, sweeping more than 30 of them out to sea and then throwing their lifeless bodies back on shore.

Residents rushed in vain to save the women and children, giving them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, pumping sea water from their bellies.

“It is such a tragedy,” said Venkaratnam, a villager who uses only one name. He was clad in a sarong and drenched in seawater. “We tried to our best to save these people, but could not do anything for them.” Some rescuers even tried to run for medical help while carrying the victims before realizing they were dead.

There were similar scenes of devastation along the southeastern Indian coast. In Narsapuram, a small coastal town, tidal waves as high as coconut trees washed away hundreds of small fishing boats.

In Prakasam, a pleasant, sunny Sunday morning turned into the most frightening day of 45-year-old Giri Prasad’s life.

“The sea suddenly turned furious, and within no time it was upon us,” he said. Tidal waves several yards high headed toward the village “like an army of wild elephants,” causing extensive damage and killing seven persons.

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The most powerful earthquake in the past 40 years was felt first in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island, the Indonesian province closest to the undersea epicenter.

The shaking lasted for about four minutes. But what felt like mild swaying in further-flung cities across Southeast Asia was violent in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, collapsing buildings and toppling the minaret on the centuries-old mosque that dominates the skyline.

Soon after, flooding and quake damage then cut all links to the city.

Twelve hours later, about 1,400 people had died in and around the stricken city, the Health Ministry said, basing the figure on shortwave radio reports received from officials on the scene.

Banda Aceh, a city of about 400,000 residents, was unusual in yesterday’s disaster in that the quake caused many of the deaths. Elsewhere, thousands died from flooding caused by huge tsunami waves.

“People are fleeing their houses in panic, and the talk is that the river is rising,” said Arista Idris, an official with the International Organization of Migration, quoting a colleague in Banda Aceh. By late yesterday, they hadn’t heard from the colleague again.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Tidal waves that struck villages on Malaysia’s northwestern coast were a terrifying experience for many people, even hardy fishermen and other residents who are accustomed to tropical downpours and regular monsoon flooding.

A wedding ceremony turned into bedlam when the reception became the site of a flash flood. A government health inspector lost his wife and four siblings when they were swallowed up by the sea during a beach picnic.

Preschool children enjoying an afternoon dip in usually placid waters ended up drowning.

“When I saw the waves that were even taller than a big man, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said boat-maker Karim Aman, 45. “This is what you see on TV happening in other places, but it’s not supposed to happen in Malaysia.”

The scenes of destruction sparked by the tidal waves shocked a country that — because of its geographical location — has no experience with earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes or other natural disasters that plague its neighbors.

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