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The December 2004 earthquake released about enough energy to power the United States for six months, or put another way, it generated the equivalent of a 250-megaton bomb shaking every point of the earth an inch or more. The associated shifts in the ocean floor displaced enough water to fill a tank 1.6 kilometers wide, 1.6 kilometers high and more than 11 kilometers long. The Los Angeles Times reported: “Miles beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean, a massive piece of the Earth’s crust had heaved, buckled and shifted. Along a fracture zone hundreds of miles long, it moved, releasing pent-up energy equivalent to the power of more than 1,000 atomic bombs. The waters above reared up and crashed down, creating a wave that was now racing across the ocean at 500 mph…The records of history and evidence encoded in coral reefs show that tsunamis have hit the Indian Ocean seldom but with great force.”
The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was an undersea megathrust earthquake that occurred at 00:58:53 UTC on Sunday, 26 December 2004, with an epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The quake itself is known by the scientific community as the Sumatra–Andaman earthquake. The resulting tsunami was given various names, including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, South Asian tsunami, Indonesian tsunami, the Christmas tsunami and the Boxing Day tsunami.
The earthquake was caused when the Indian Plate was subducted by the Burma Plate and triggered a series of devastating tsunamis along the coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean, killing 230,000 people in fourteen countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 metres (100 ft) high. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.
With a magnitude of Mw 9.1–9.3, it is the third-largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph. The earthquake had the longest duration of faulting ever observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes. It caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 centimetre (0.4 inches) and triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska. Its epicentre was between Simeulue and mainland Indonesia. The plight of the affected people and countries prompted a worldwide humanitarian response. In all, the worldwide community donated more than $14 billion (2004 US$) in humanitarian aid.
Because of the distances involved, the tsunami took anywhere from fifteen minutes to seven hours to reach the coastlines. The northern regions of the Indonesian island of Sumatra were hit very quickly, while Sri Lanka and the east coast of India were hit roughly 90 minutes to two hours later. Thailand was struck about two hours later despite being closer to the epicentre, because the tsunami traveled more slowly in the shallow Andaman Sea off its western coast.