The Day the Sea Came, Part I: A Ghost in the Water

Barry Bearak in the New York Times Magazine:

27coverFor the earth, it was just a twinge. Last Dec. 26, at 7:59 a.m., one part of the planet’s undersea crust made an abrupt shift beneath another along a 750-mile seam near the island of Sumatra. The tectonic plates had been grating against each other for millenniums, and now the higher of the two was lifted perhaps 60 feet. For a planet where landmasses are in constant motion across geological time, the event was of no great moment. But for people – who mark the calendar in days and months rather than eons – a monumental catastrophe had begun, not only the largest earthquake in 40 years but also the displacement of billions of tons of water, unleashing a series of mammoth waves: a tsunami. These surging mounds of water raced toward land with the speed of a jet aircraft and then slowed as they reared up to leap ashore at heights of 50 feet and higher. They were long as well as tall, stampeding inland and carrying with them all they were destroying. People caught in the waves became small ingredients in an enormous blender, bludgeoned by concrete slabs and felled trees, stabbed by jagged sheets of glass, tangled up in manacles of wire.

The number of the dead and missing is now estimated at 232,000.

More here.