The 2004 Tsunami and Its Effects on Sri Lanka: Background information when reading Wave

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Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala X
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2013, 240 pages
    Jan 2014, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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Beyond the Book:
The 2004 Tsunami and Its Effects on Sri Lanka

Print Review

Wave is not a linear account of the tsunami, and because the author's stark focus is internal, the disaster and events in the months and years that followed, are often hazy. Because of this, it's worth taking a look at the magnitude and nature of the tsunami the author survived.

A tsunami is a series of giant waves caused either by an earthquake or a volcanic eruption under the sea. Either of these phenomena leads to water displacement which in turn churns large quantities of water into massive waves. A tsunami is not just one wave but a series of walls of water minutes or even up to an hour apart.

The 2004 tsunami, which caused widespread destruction, was triggered by a massive earthquake of magnitude 9.0 just off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The two tectonic plates which triggered the earthquake were the Burma and India plates. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, this earthquake released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. By the end of the day (December 26), more than 150,000 people were dead or missing across 11 countries and millions more were rendered homeless. The tsunami is estimated to have taken close to 230,000 lives. Indonesia, especially the region of Aceh, was the hardest hit with an estimated toll of 170,000.

Where the 2004 tsunami hit The author, a native of Sri Lanka, was vacationing there, when the tsunami hit. According to a United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security report, it took two hours for the wave to hit the coast of Sri Lanka, where it reached a height of about 20 feet. In 2004, Sri Lanka had no tsunami warning system in place and, "...had no living memory of a tsunami," arriving to a "population completely unaware and unprepared." The tsunami affected 57.4% of Sri Lanka's total population, leaving, "35,000 dead and over a million displaced, some 150,000 without jobs, over 100,000 houses destroyed and a reconstruction bill of over $3 billion."

Recovery efforts in the country were complicated by an ongoing civil war and clashing interests from competing ethnic groups. Nevertheless Sri Lanka is coming back and the country is enjoying a resurgence in tourism.

Tsunami map picture from

Article by Jo Perry

This article was originally published in May 2013, and has been updated for the January 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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