Tsunami strikes African coast

Dec 31, 2004
Author: P&S

The East African country of Somalia took the brunt of damage experienced by African countries with this week’s killer tsunami.

At least 120 people in the country straddling the Horn of Africa are so far reported dead as a result of the killer waves, which were also experienced as far south as South Africa’s southern coast at the other end of the continent.

News reports from Somalia indicate that about 10,000 people are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance – the worst affected region being the low-lying peninsular of Raas-Xaafuun in northern Somalia (also known as Hafun). About 85% of infrastructure on the island peninsular has been damaged or destroyed, including a number of fishing and other boats.

Any assistance could be hampered by the lack of recognized governance across much of the country but the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations says it is already arranging the distribution of food parcels to about 2000 people on Xaafuun, with food aid being transported by road from the small port of Boosaaso situated in the Gulf of Aden.

A WFP spokesperson told the UN Integrated Regional Information Network that the road was in very bad shape making the rescue mission a slow one. Xaafuun is the only place in Somalia where the full effects of the tsunami was known, she said. The UN organisation was planning an aerial survey of the coast for yesterday (Thursday, 30 December 2004).

Somalia’s interim prime minister, Ali Muhammad Gedi said he would a lead a delegation of government officials to assess the damage caused by the waves ‘in the next few days.’ In the meantime a disaster committee was being formed.

In a strange sort of way, the tsunami may bring about a quicker than expected transfer of a new Somali government to the capital city of Mogadishu and hastening the end of the war-lords and lawlessness that have brought chaos and misery to this country.

Most other East African countries reported having experienced the effects of the killer waves. This is despite Africa lying tens of thousands of kilometers from the epicenter of the earthquake that saw a series of tsunamis leave a path of death and destruction across the Indian Ocean.

In Kenya at least two people died as a result of unusually large waves striking the coast. Authorities ordered the evacuation of all beaches at 17.00 on 27 December, but by then it was too late for fishermen in Malindi and Mombasa whose boats were overturned or sunk with the loss of much equipment. More than 200 boats were lost or damaged near Malindi and fishermen blamed the government for not issuing warnings about the effects of a tsunami as soon as it became apparent one was headed towards Africa.

The effect of the tsunami was described as a huge tide moving in the opposite direction to normal, turning the sea, which is usually a clear blue, into a dirty brown maelstrom. Local people said they had never seen anything like this before, with the tides rising and falling ‘many times’. One said the tide appeared to have gone crazy – it started several hours ahead of the normal time and destroyed several luxury boats and large fishing vessels that were at sea.

The Kenyan Red Cross has called for donations to assist the victims in South Asia.

Tanzania reported that at least 10 people had died as a result of the waves and unexpected high tides.

There are no reports from Mozambique concerning the effect of the tsunami – possibly because much of this large country is protected by the bulk of Madagascar to the east.

In South Africa, which is up to 7,700km from the epicentre of the earthquake, unusual high tides of increased frequency were experienced along the KwaZulu Natal coast including the ports of Richards Bay and Durban, and at Port St Johns where more than 20 people drowned, possibly as a result of wave surges. Durban harbour was closed to incoming and outgoing traffic on Monday afternoon (27 December) because of unusually strong surges across the entrance channel and a number of high and low tides were noted in the harbour during the night of 26/27 December. No damage has been reported.

East London harbour experienced a wave that surged upriver, uprooting large concrete blocks in the harbour, with unusual wave action noted from as early as 15.00 on Sunday 26 December. Frequent tides were recorded until at 04.00 the following morning. Port Elizabeth and places along the southern coast also felt the fury of Mother Nature with unusual tide and wave activity.

To have reached South Africa in that time the wave energy would have had to travel across the Indian Ocean at more than 600 km/h.

Few reports have been received concerning Madagascar and the effects of the tsunami. The east coast of the large Indian Ocean island, including the ports of Toamasina and Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) lie facing the expected path of the waves and could have received some damage.

There are also few reports of any damage to the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, La Reunion and Rodriguez, although the latter was mentioned in some news radio reports of having felt the wave. A tourist website for Mauritius claimed the island had not experienced any effect of the tsunami and described Sunday 26 December as ‘just like any other weekend’. However police issued warnings to bathers to keep out of the water although this had the opposite effect with crowds thronging the beaches to watch the phenomenon. Speculation is that coral reefs surrounding much of the island protected the coastline.

Few reports have been received from the Seychelles, which lie north of Madagascar and to the east of Africa – the only report said that abnormal waves had reached the islands at about 15.00 on 26 December, some three hours before they were expected to reach the African mainland. These waves reached an unusual 2.5 metres.

Further to the east, Diego Garcia, occupied by the US Military as a strategic military base, also recorded no damage other than an unusually high tide. The island has a maximum elevation of 22ft (6.7m) and an average elevation of 4ft (just above one metre) – and according to monitored radio reports the island claimed no effects at all from the tsunami. A deep trench offshore from the island may have played a part by preventing any run-up effect from the incoming wave.

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