Today's Papers

The Waves

Everyone leads with news about the massive tsunamis that hit Asia on Sunday, killing more than 21,000 people. Walls of water originating near the Indonesian island of Sumatra hurtled toward land at the speed of jet aircraft, sending waves as tall as 20 feet crashing into Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Somalia. Boats were dragged onto the beach, and cars were carried out to sea. Entire villages were wiped out, and people were swept into the ocean. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes, and the death toll is expected to keep rising.

The Los Angeles Times online initially used the term “tidal waves” (as did TP), but as the Wall Street Journalexplains in a tsunami Q&A, these waves weren’t caused by tides. Rather, Sunday’s tsunami was spawned when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, the worst in 40 years, ruptured the sea floor deep below the Indian Ocean. An Italian scientist says the earthquake was so powerful that it disturbed the Earth’s rotation.

USA Today has coverage out of Jakarta, the LAT out of Madras, and the New York Times out of Madras and Dehiwala, Sri Lanka. The WSJ runs short reports from India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The Washington Postissues its main story out of Jakarta and also fronts a first-person account, datelined Sri Lanka, from staff writer Michael Dobbs, who was swimming in the ocean when the tsunami hit and likened the experience to “a scene from the Bible.”

As the WP points out in a separate article, the tragedy could have been attenuated by early-warning systems like the ones that exist for the Pacific Ocean. After the earthquake, it took the tsunami an hour to get to Thailand and 2.5 hours to get to India and Sri Lanka. American officials wanted to warn the countries but had no way of doing so. Moving people a mere three hundred yards inland could have saved thousands of lives.

The LAT catches late word that the earthquake moved the entire island of Sumatra 100 feet to the southwest.

The NYT, the WP, and the LAT front, USAT teases, and the WSJ goes high in its world-wide newsbox with news that pro-West opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko appears likely to win Ukraine’s repeat runoff presidential election. A jubilant Yuschenko claimed victory, saying, “It is fashionable to be a Ukrainian. It’s stylish. It’s beautiful.” Supporters are hoping he will win with enough of a margin to enact his plan to turn the country away from Russia and toward the West. The election was observed by a record 12,000 international monitors. One observer group has already said the election was marked by peace and order, in contrast to the fraud, intimidation, and abuses of power that marred the previous two elections.

The WSJ newsboxes and the NYT teases news that Iraqi militants posted a video allegedly showing last week’s explosion at a mess tent that killed 22 people. But the authenticity of the video could not be determined. Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers in Mosul are on edge. Last week’s suicide bomber is believed to have been wearing an Iraqi Army uniform, and Americans have become more suspicious of Iraqi soldiers generally.

The NYT fronts, the LAT and USAT tease, and the WP stuffs news about recent airline fiascoes. US Airways is still struggling to reunite passengers with their luggage following an “operational meltdown” that arose when unusually high numbers of employees called in sick for three days in a row. The airline canceled almost 400 flights and had to operate special baggage flights. The snafu is not good for consumer confidence in US Airways, which has already filed for bankruptcy twice in the last two years. Meanwhile, a Delta regional carrier canceled all 1,100 of its flights on Christmas due to a computer malfunction. The NYT warns that airline headaches are likely to get worse as the six big airlines continue to lose billions and respond by making deeper cuts.

The WSJ newsboxes, and the NYT, WP, and LAT stuff word that the residents of an Israeli settlement on the Gaza Strip have agreed to relocate as part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal policy. Up until now, settlers had hoped to present a united front against Sharon. By agreeing to leave, the settlers have given a boost to Sharon’s plan to remove all 21 settlements from Gaza.

The WP teases word that the FDA has green-lighted a Harvard experiment to test MDMA, the illegal street drug better known as “ecstasy,” in cancer patients. By easing patients’ anxiety about dying, the drug could help them come to terms with death and deal with family issues. Meanwhile, UCLA is testing psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” for its ability to induce spiritual and religious experiences in terminally-ill patients.

Lipstick on the Caller … The Los Angeles Times reports that the new generation of GPS-enabled mobile devices allows people to keep tabs on their children, spouses, employees, and pets. GPS was originally added to cell phones so that 911 calls could be tracked. But users can now buy the locater service. “I would say that 60% of my sales are to women who say, ‘I think my husband is cheating on me,’ ” says one merchant.