It is one thing to read and watch the Youtube videos about the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami sitting behind a computer thousands of miles from where it happened, it is something very different to do so where it actually happened. It has been almost been 15 years since the third largest earthquake ever recorded produced one of the worst natural disasters in history. The Wikipedia article dealing with the tsunami notes “The sudden vertical rise of the seabed by several metres during the earthquake displaced massive volumes of water, resulting in a tsunami that struck the coasts of the Indian Ocean”. What followed was death and destruction on a scale never before seen in a natural disaster.
When it was all over, an estimated 230 000 people would be dead with 125 000 injured, over 45 000 people would be missing and another 1.74 million people would be displaced. Indonesia was the hardest hit followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The province of Phang Nga, and Khao Lak in particular, was the worst affected in Thailand. Khao Lak was hit by the tsunami at about 10:00am with the official death toll exceeding 4 000. The unofficial death toll is estimated to be closer to 10 000 with many undocumented Burmese workers in the area. Wave heights of 6-10m (19-32ft) were recorded in Khao Lak.
Perhaps the best way to understand the magnitude of this natural disaster is to watch the video made by Thompson Reuters Foundation and Media Storm. It puts the event in perspective and shows the scale of the devastation.
There are two tsunami memorials close to our hotel and we wanted to visit these. Our first visit was to the Tsunami Police Boat Memorial. On the morning of 26 December there were two police boats on duty off the coast of Khao Lak where Her Royal Highness Ubonrat Rajakanya Siriwaddhana Phannawaddee was staying at the La Flora Resort with her son and daughters. Police Boat 813 Buretpadungkit was at anchor about 1 nautical mile off the coast. When the tsunami struck, Police Boat 813 was swept inland almost 2km to where it sits today as the centrepiece of the memorial. The other Police Boat was lost at sea.
Besides the Police Boat there is a memorial of some kind but nothing to indicate what it is or what it represents. It seems to resemble a wave and we assume that it represents the waves caused by the tsunami. It is a pity that there is not more information or a plaque of some kind at the memorial. There are a few ‘museums’ in the vicinity of the Police Boat but these are unfortunately not highly rated by Tripadvisor with most of the information being readily available via the internet.
Our next visit was to the Tsunami Memorial Park at Baan Nam Kem, a little village about 30km north of Khao Lak.
The names of many of those who lost their lives are included in the wall which, sadly, is now neglected and starting to look run down.
What is disappointing is the lack of information at these memorials and what there is on the internet is often contradictory.
We did come across a third memorial. It was not an official memorial but it was by far the most moving. It is not sign-posted and is easy to miss. We were walking on the beach and happened to notice a tree that, from a distance, looked colourful. As we got closer we could see the pictures attached to tree. The pictures were of children lost in the tsunami.
It is hard to imagine what these parents went through on that fateful day and in the days and weeks that followed. What was supposed to be a wonderful holiday had turned into a tragedy. It looked like they had returned some time later to the place where it happened and had placed a photograph of their loved one on the tree so that they wouldn’t be forgotten, but perhaps more importantly for themselves. Perhaps it was part of the healing process. Why this beach and why this tree?
It was certainly a sobering experience and a reminder of just how fragile life is.