A tsunami warning sign urges people to find higher ground when a tsunami threatens. Image online, courtesy NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
This is one of the gifts the wave gave me.
I don’t care about myself anymore.
Dr. Maria Belón
Christmas, 2004, would be fantastic. Enrique Alvarez and Maria Belón had a great plan to make that happen.
They, and their three boys, would travel to a Thai resort on the Indian Ocean. Beautiful days, and swimming in warm water, would only be part of the fun.
But ... while the Alvarez-Belón family enjoyed Christmas together, two tectonic plates—which had been rubbing against each other for years below the ocean floor—were stuck. Their edges were locked together, causing so much stress and pressure that the upper plate began to resemble a tightly wound, gigantic spring.
When the ever-increasing pressure reached its breaking point, the two tectonic plates could no longer stay locked. On "Boxing Day"—the day after Christmas, 2004 (when many people "box up" and store their holiday decorations for another year)—the fault started to rupture, thrusting upwards at least 40 feet.
At twice the speed of a traveling bullet, the plates "unzipped" for a distance greater than 750 miles.
This "mega-thrust" event didn't just lift the ocean floor, it also displaced the ocean above. Huge amounts of seawater, forced upward by the movement of the sea bed, flowed away from the fault.
On the surface, displaced water began to fan out as a series of giant ripples. A tsunami was born, and it began traveling around 500 miles an hour.
What started as a series of ripples became a series of waves moving ever nearer to the Indian-Ocean shoreline of many countries. The closer the waves got to land, the more threatening-to-humans they became.
No victim had any warning of a catastrophe-in-the-making. A doctor in Spain, Maria Belón became a patient in Thailand after the "Boxing-Day Tsunami" roared ashore at Phuket.
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