The TSUNAMI Disaster 

An IDC Report


New Delhi, 02 January 2005

Car Nicobar is a dot on the map situated between North Andaman and Great Nicobar Islands, a lonely island surrounded by miles and miles of the sea. Some of us who had been to Car Nicobar in the past, remember the thatched huts of the locals mounted on stilts because of the lowness of the land. The placid pace of life based entirely on the coconut palms and the rice which they grow. The men and women bare bodied except for their colourful sarongs. It is sad to know that all this has been wiped out by one enormous wave.

The Armed Forces and Coast Guard once again rose to the occasion swiftly and the tremendous loyalty of effort of the young and middle-aged pilots of the Indian Air Force and the Navy deserves the nation's gratitude. The Navy sailed off its ships to rescue the needy and help Maldives and Sri Lanka and to do its duty. 

We post below a dispatch sent by a senior Air Force Officer to tell us of the devastation of the officers quarters at Car Nicobar (CARNIC) and the aftermath, as 200 IAF personnel and families were saved by climbing on to the 200 foot high Radar Tower. 

The Indira Point was wiped off the map and we read that some Indian and foreign scientists were lost. There was talk of setting up a listening cum tracking station at Indira Point and there could be some connections or the scientists (?) were doing some research work. 

We offer our condolences to all the families who lost their loved ones, as we come to terms with this disaster.

We also post below that an interesting item from The Daily Telegraph of 28th December.

CARNIC Is Creating History

Courtesy A Senior IAF Officer

The earthquake destroyed a large number of married quarters, which had been built strategically on the beach, no doubt in order to get the best view of the sea. These took the brunt of the wall of seawater.  About 15 minutes earlier the population had been rudely shaken out of their beds by the earthquake and came out of their houses, in their nighties and pyjamas. By the time the tsunami hit, they had started drifting back into their houses. Suddenly the sea backed off from the coast and came like a huge wall, several meters high. People outside noticed this, started running away from the sea face, over the rough scrub, towards high ground, towards the runway, which is about 3040' above beach level. Some had little kids and infants in their arms. In the process they had to cross a retaining wall and a barbed wire fence. These were the ones who survived, although many of them were overtaken by the water and couldn't keep a hold of their young ones. the loss of a baby from your own arms must be I think one of the most gut wrenching experiences.  Those who were inside the houses had no chance. 


Picture on right shows the devastation of the Air Station area at Car Nicobar 

(Pic: Courtesy NRSA)

The force of the water was so great that all thats left of the first row of house is the cement plinth no roof, no walls. I don't think these hapless souls had a chance; they would have been severely injured or even killed by the debris long before they drowned in the swirling waters. May their souls rest in peace.

Despite the mental and physical trauma, the Station Commander, other IAF personnel and their families showed great resolve and courage.  They quickly organised themselves and provided what little succour they could to each other. Among those swept away were pilots of the local helicopter squadron. Nevertheless those that survived were soon at the squadron, knowing that their machines and skills would be required.  The airmen also gathered and they got the helicopters ready for action. Still in their pyjamas (all clothing had been swept away) these intrepid pilots got airborne and started their search and rescue operations. Some of you may have seen the TV clip showing the Station Commander Gp Capt Bandopadhya receiving the CAS in his vest and pyjamas. That must be a sort of a first!

Worth narrating is the story of a 12-year old girl, who found herself in the water.  She clutched on to flotsam and then managed to mount a floating door panel.  She then paddled her way back to land using her hands, and then walked back to the airfield. All this took about 48 hours, without food and water. Sadly, her father (a Sqn Ldr), mother and younger brother are still missing. She is now in the custody of her father's elder brother.

As time passes and some of these men and women write about their experiences, we will no doubt come across stories of great courage and sacrifice.

Another Addition

The force of the water at Car Nicobar was so great that all that's left of the first row of houses is the cement plinth no roof, no walls. I don't think these hapless souls had a chance; they would have been severely injured or even killed by the Tsunami wave. Its a sad sad event. Our thoughts and prayers are always with those who survived and those who lost their loved ones. 

The National Remote Sensing Agency has uploaded a PPS file (PowerPoint) that shows the Before and After satellite images of Car Nicobar Island and its airfield.

Please visit

We Can't Control Nature, But We Can Prepare For The Worst

By Roger Highfield

(Daily Telegraph, UK: 28/12/2004)

This week's devastating tsunami came as no surprise to scientists. The quake that triggered the destruction was just off the western tip of Sumatra in a geologically violent region where two of the plates that make up the Earth's surface collide, and where similar upheavals have been seen before.  The Indian Ocean floor is being pushed under Eurasia along a long fault line known as a subduction zone. A few miles beneath the ocean floor, the  plates slipped violently and abruptly over a 700-mile stretch, creating a seabed cliff as tall as 10 metres and a tsunami that moved at 560mph. The death toll in its wake is still rising. Once again, scientists will ask whether society should do more to prepare for such rare but catastrophic events.

Although earthquakes are unpredictable, tsunamis are not. An internationall warning system in the Pacific was first considered in 1960, when around  1,000 people died after a tsunami struck Chile, Hawaii, Japan and elsewhere.

In 1964, a 9.2-magnitude quake in Alaska triggered a wave that killed more than 100 people as it swept down the west coast. Driven by this modest death toll, relative to the tragedy of the past few days, the United States and Japan have prepared evacuations, special construction codes for coastal buildings and shoreline embankments to lessen the impact of these waves.

Within 15 minutes of this week's earthquake, scientists running the Pacific warning system sent an alert to 26 participating countries, including Thailand and Indonesia, that destructive waves might be generated. The problem is that not all submarine earthquakes make waves.

To turn earthquake detection into tsunami prediction, America uses pressure sensors that sit on the ocean floor to measure the water column and detect any tsunami in the deep ocean. That information is relayed to a buoy that sends the data via satellite to tsunami warning centres in Hawaii and Alaska, where computers can model their threat.

The detection system was transferred to the US National Data Buoy Centre in October 2003. A month later, the system had its first operational test. A 7.5-magnitude earthquake off the Aleutian Islands generated a tsunami that led to Alaska issuing a warning. Importantly, this alert was subsequently cancelled, based on the buoy information. Hawaii has had a number of false alarms about pending tsunamis. These evacuations cost millions in lost productivity.

Tsunami prediction is still a budding science. Much of the size, direction and speed of a wave is determined by the contours of the seabed and local topography. More ocean-bed data collection is needed to make predictions more accurate. But in southern Asia there were no tidal gauges, no buoys and thus no warning.

Close to the epicentre of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that triggered the waves of destruction, any warning given by an alert system would have been too late, given that the waves move as fast as a jumbo jet. At best, those on the Sumatran coast would have known of impending disaster when the sea moved out abnormally far and fast. That would have given them as much as 10 minutes to flee.

An early warning system still could have saved many lives. The deadly surge struck southern Thailand about an hour after the earthquake. After two or so hours, the torrents had travelled some 1,000 miles and slammed India and Sri Lanka. At a meeting in June of the UN's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, experts concluded that the Indian Ocean should have a warning network.

The problem is that tsunamis as large and destructive as that seen this week happen only a few times in a century, a threat that countries find hard to take seriously. Governments change over much shorter time scales, undermining the political will to prepare for such events. And here we are talking about more than tsunamis.

Many other hazards fall into the same huge-but-rare category. Today's increasingly populous and mobile world faces a rising threat of pandemics. Despite the horrors of the 1918 influenza outbreak that killed some 40 million, politicians seem strangely unmoved by the threat of a new bird flu strain called H5N1. The disease could result in 100 million deaths if the virus responsible adapts to spread from person to person, according to one World Heath Organisation estimate.

We can do something. An analysis of the 1918 outbreak by a team at the Harvard School of Public Health suggests a number of measures to prepare for the worst, notably stockpiling antiviral drugs in the Far East, where pandemics originate because of the proximity of birds and people.

Then there is the risk of a doomsday asteroid. An impact equivalent to 10 million tons of TNT, which could kill millions of people, is thought likely to occur about once every 1,000 years. The fossil record suggests there have been several mass extinctions where impacts may have contributed, notably one coinciding with the death of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and the "great dying" which wiped out 95 per cent of species - 200 million years ago. Again, it is possible to warn of catastrophe and, Bruce Willis capers aside, there are some serious proposals for a "track and whack" policy to scan the skies in a systematic way and avert disaster by diverting or destroying incoming objects.

The appliance of science has seen a huge surge in the Earth's population, lifespan and in the extent of civilised society. The tsunami has taught us humility, once again underlining how nature, and not mankind, is still the real master. The plates that slide, shift and grind under our feet, the viruses that multiply in our bodies and objects in orbit are indifferent to our plight. The chances of a natural Armageddon might be remote, but the destruction of human life and impact on modern lifestyles would be so extreme that we should use science to defend ourselves better.

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