Story and pictures
Andrew J Wood
26th December 2019
A personal refection by long time Thailand resident Andrew J Wood who recently visited the area in Thailand that was badly devastated by the tragic events on the 26th December 2004.
KHAO LAK, PHANG NGA, THAILAND: Sitting at my resort in Phang Nga province in Southern Thailand a few weeks ago, I was quietly having my breakfast and my thoughts turn to the tragic events 15 years earlier. I was staying at a resort that was badly hit by the devastating 2004 tsunami. The resort was flattened by the huge 17-metre high wave that made landfall all along the beaches of Khao Lak.
Yesterday, December 26, marked 15 years since a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province triggered a tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other countries.
The underwater earthquake opened a fault-line deep beneath the Indian Ocean, it triggered a massive wave as high as 17.4 meters (57 feet), in its wake whole communities were wiped out, washed away in seconds.
Northern Aceh province bore the brunt of the disaster. News agencies reported a total of 128,858 people were killed according to statistics compiled by the government aid agencies there.
The stories of the huge disaster started to filter through as the world was awaking to the boxing day tragedy.
Emergency services, hospitals and morgues struggled to cope. 570,000 people were displaced and 179,000 buildings and homes destroyed in Indonesia as the wave swallowed large parts of the coastline.
Massive reconstruction aid in Banda Aceh has since rebuilt a new city on top of the ruins.
Sri Lanka was the next worst-affected country with a death toll of about 40,000, while in Thailand almost 5,400 people were killed including many foreign tourists.
In India, nearly 42,000 people, or close to 10,000 families, were rendered homeless by the waves that struck islands off the eastern coast. More than 3,500 people were killed and nearly 9,000 died on the mainland, mostly in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
The tsunami generated an enormous international response, with an estimated $13.6 billion in official aid and private donations pledged for the recovery.
As I look around me today there is little physical evidence of the aftermath of the tsunami. Fifteen-years later the Khao Lak resorts have been mostly rebuilt.
The area is renown for its beautiful white sandy beaches. It is once again filled with tourists, mainly from Europe escaping the winter weather of the northern hemisphere.
Unfortunately very few Thais visit now – they still remember the saddness and death.
The sea here is very shallow which enabled a massive wave to build unhindered from its origins in Northern Sumatra and wiped out everything including 400 guests and alot of the hotel staff on duty – they all perished on that fateful boxing day morning.
There was no where to go, no where to hide. All trees were flattened and all buildings were mostly low-rise. It was Thailand’s first great tsunami, there were no systems in place. Today tsunami warning towers with huge sirens allowing hotels and resorts 1 hour to evacuate by bus to higher ground. They practice every year. Not surprisingly it is taken very seriously and everyone pays attention.
Sitting here in Phang Nga province I feel sadness but also thankful that life has returned and the tourists.
I’m also blessed to beable to experience it’s rejuvenation. I’m reminded of the Latin phrase that has meant a lot to me over the years “carpe diem” – seize the day.
Everyday is a gift.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all those who suffered loss. There were many stories of bravery, many unsung heroes; tourists, tour guides, hotel staff, all caught up in the chaos. The loss was huge. We will not forget.