Beachgoers, frolicking in the warm waters of Indonesia's Indian coast, look up and see a strange sight on the horizon: A swell of water. But curiosity turns to panic as the swell nears land and amplifies into a 100-foot (30-meter) wave hell-bent on destroying everything in its path.
It all started on Dec. 26, 2004, when a 9.1-magnitude earthquake shook the bottom of the Indian Ocean with the force of 23,000 atomic bombs. The movement of the seafloor thrust a tsunami in all directions, like the ripples of a stone tossed in a pond. By the time the waters receded, nearly 228,000 people in 14 countries were dead, and some communities in hard-hit Indonesia were almost completely wiped off the map [source: Folger].
Just as scary as the tsunami itself is the possibility that a deadly event could happen again — despite the installation of an early detection system in the Indian Ocean. See, the Indonesian island of Sumatra sits right next to a hyperactive fault zone. Even if Sumatran residents are instantly warned, they may only have 30 minutes to evacuate. That's nowhere close to enough time, particularly in large cities where evacuation routes could quickly choke with cars [source: Folger].