At 00:58 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on 26 December 2004, a single sharp primary (compression) wave was created at the bottom of the Sumatran Trench, 155 miles to the south-southwest of Aceh Province in Sumatra, Indonesia.
Travelling through directly coupled earth and water at 18,000 miles per hour, this puny wave arrived at the town of Banda Aceh thirty-two seconds later, causing a minor earth tremor lasting exactly 13 seconds, roughly the same duration as the seismic compression wave from a large nuclear weapondetonated underground in Nevada. Note in the right-hand ‘after’ photograph that everything in central Banda Aceh, situated directly on the giant Sumatran Fault line, is intact.
During the long silent 22 minutes that followed, there were no injuries, no damage, and no seismic aftershocks. Then suddenly and without any warning, a giant tidal wave rose from hell, razing everything and everyone in its path.
“Death and destruction have been the fate of San Francisco. Shaken by a temblor at 5:13 o’clock yesterday morning, the shock lasting 48 seconds, and scourged by flames that raged diametrically in all directions, the city is a mass of smouldering ruins. At six o’clock last evening the flames seemingly playing with increased vigor, threatened to destroy such sections as their fury had spared during the earlier portion of the day. Building their path in a triangular circuit from the start in the early morning, they jockeyed as the day waned, left the business section, which they had entirely devastated, and skipped in a dozen directions to the residence portions. As night fell they had made their way over into the North Beach section and springing anew to the south they reached out along the shipping section down the bay shore, over the hills and across toward Third and Townsend streets.
“Warehouses, wholesale houses and manufacturing concerns fell in their path. This completed the destruction of the entire district known as the ‘South of Market Street.’ How far they are reaching to the south across the channel cannot be told as this part of the city is shut off from San Francisco papers. After darkness, thousands of the homeless were making their way with their blankets and scant provisions to Golden Gate Park and the beach to find shelter.
“Those in the homes on the hills just north of the Hayes Valley wrecked section piled their belongings in the streets and express wagons and automobiles were hauling the things away to the sparsely settled sections. Everybody in San Francisco is prepared to leave the city, for the belief is firm that San Francisco will be totally destroyed. Downtown everything is ruin. Not a business house stands. Theaters are crumbled into heaps. Factories and commission houses lie smouldering on their former sites.”
So spoke the front page of the San Francisco ‘Call Chronicle Examiner‘ on the morning of April 19,1906, though of course the newspaper had to be printed on still intact presses far away from the city. This was a real earthquake, ladies and gentlemen, a real earthquake. And though it measured a relatively puny 7.9 on the Richter Scale, the savage transverse shear waves generated by the quake whipped through the ground like a monstrous snake, causing severe damage to buildings in Portland, Oregon, more than 530 miles away from its epicenter in San Francisco. Six minutes later there was a severe aftershock, and then another severe aftershock five minutes after that.
San Francisco was shattered, and awestruck scientists from all over America gathered to gawk helplessly at the geological damage. The ground had broken open for more than 270 miles along the San Andreas rift, a major fault line. The country on the east side of the rift had moved southward relative to the country on the west side of the rift. The greatest movement was about 21 feet, some 30 miles northwest of San Francisco.
Were it not for a handful of amateur cameramen in Banda Aceh on Boxing Day 2004, we might easily have been fooled into believing that Sumatra, like San Francisco, had been subjected to a naturally-occurring nightmare earthquake, first peddled by the American NOAA at 8.0 on the Richter Scale. Then of course the NOAA realized that 8.0 was simply not enough to cover this thermonuclear sabotage, and developed a new exciting “flexible” Richter Scale to take care of the public relations problem.