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17 September 2014
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Tsunami: Anatomy of a Disaster

Elephants fled the coast as the tsunami approached. photo: Somporn Panyastianpong
On Boxing Day last year the world witnessed the terrible power of the Indian Ocean tsunami. This is the full scientific account of that disaster, told exclusively by people who lived through it.

The film features Cut Putri, whose astonishing footage explains so much about the power of the tsunami. The Squire family in Sri Lanka were witnesses to how the tsunami struck that country in a series of monster waves one after another. In Thailand, Mark Heather knew what was coming, but watched in horror as guests at his resort walked towards the impending disaster.

Mixing previously unseen footage and accounts from a whole range of survivors, this film explains what happened in unprecedented detail. It shows what caused the wave and why it was so powerful. It reveals how elephants (pictured) and other animals sensed the impending waves before humans. It examines how the unpredictable behaviour of the wave meant that some places that should have been destroyed were spared, while other places that should have been safe were shattered. It shows how the tsunami hit different countries in different ways, giving some people warning and others no chance at all. It explains how in Sri Lanka, the tsunami even changed direction. Above all the film looks at the lessons we have learned from this disaster and asks the critical question – need so many people have died?

 TV Programmes - BBC One

Tsunami homepage

 Elsewhere on

News of the tsunami covers the disaster.

The science of tsunamis
Some killer waves tower 30m above sea level.

Horizon: Mega-tsunami
Massive landslides can cause devastating tsunamis.

 Elsewhere on the web

Views of the disaster
Before and after photographs from space show the damage.

Interactive tsunami map
California tsunami researchers chronicle the disaster.

Sumatra earthquake facts
The US Geological Survey says a 9.0 magnitude quake triggered the wave.

Tsunami warning system
UNESCO plans an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system.

Measuring the wave
US researchers determined the height of the wave using satellites.

Indian Ocean tsunami report
The Institution of Structural Engineers reports that the earthquake lifted the seabed by up to 5m.

Multi-national expert survey of Sri Lanka
The Sri Lanka tsunami may have been more than 10m high in places.

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