The 2004 Tsunami

Shortly after midnight on December 26, 2004, the 9.0 magnitude Indian Ocean earthquake triggered a massive tsunami. In a matter of minutes, this huge wave devastated fourteen countries with its terrible force. At the time, the region did not have a large-scale tsunami warning system in place. As a result, over 220,000 people died or went missing in the sudden floods that swept over countries in Southeast Asia.

As the giant waves were approaching, the Moken – a sea-based, nomadic people – sensed a change in the sea. They moved quickly to higher ground, as far from the shoreline as they could. The majority of the Thai and tourist populations remained by the ocean, though, where thousands of people were killed by waves as high as 30 feet tall.

I remember the images of a post-earthquake Haiti. I remember the video footage from Japan’s tsunami in March, 2011. But, in times of disaster and suffering such as these, there are positive stories. In 2007, South Asian tsunami survivor Petra Nemcova built the Chao Thai Mai school in an area that was severely affected. Today, more than 200 students attend this school. Most of them are of the Moken community, whose seaside homes and belongings were washed away.

Following my school visit, I visited Ban Nam Khem Tsunami Center. Here, volunteers and scientists created a warning system and emergency evacuation plan. Thailand’s coastal communities are prepared in the event of another natural disaster. Simple steps like having a bag of supplies ready, and a basic evacuation plan, can save so many lives during a disaster.