#11 from SE Asia — 6 years after the tsunami… The tsunami museums of Khao Lak and of Phang-Nga
January, 27th, 2011
Khao Lak, Thailand
The massive tsunami that hit Thailand on December 26th, 2004, did most of its damage in Thailand in the province of Phang-Nga. It is where most of the 8,000 people died. The ones that the media mostly paid attention to were those in the tourist locations.
Of the 240,000 who died that day, over half of them were on the southern side of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. India and Ceylon lost another 80,000. But the documented drama of the event focused mostly around southwest Thailand.
I rode my bike directly thru the areas that were most affected. I stopped at two of the museums and spent a half day reading the descriptions of the events and watching the videos. Yes, some of it was morbid curiosity of the terror.
As a spent many hours studying what had happened, these were the take home points that I gathered.
1. Most of the people on the beach had perhaps 10 minutes warning that something was happening. Two large but non-lethal waves hit many of the beaches. Then the water receded extremely far, in some cases over 200 meters beyond the low tide marks. Many tourists and the hotel staff came out on the beach and walked out onto the exposed seabed as the massive wave built up in the distance. There are some videos shot from above showing tourists walking right at a wave that is 10-15 times their height and not stopping until the wave is upon them. They did not have a chance. The same happened with many of the hotel staff. So many felt that the water would just stop magically at the high water line. They stood there, in awe, watching this giant wave coming in to kill them. I fear I might have done the same…
2. The energy of the wave carried boats weighing several 100 tons over 2 miles inland, depositing these boats 15 meters above sea level. Many people who were over a kilometre from shore were killed by water that they did not see coming until it was upon them. Most were crushed by the debris that the onslaught carried.
3. At least two major waves came in. Killing waves can continue to come in for up to 24 hours after the initial event.
4. There was an early warning system in place. Just minutes after the earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Sunday morning at about 8 am, Thailand’s best meteorological experts had a crisis meeting. They decided not to warn about the tsunami “out of courtesy to the tourist industry”. An hour later, the first massive wave struck.
The experts had been discussing the economic impacts of a tsunami warning. The main argument against such a warning was that there have not been any floods in 300 years. They believed the Indonesian island of Sumatra would cushion the southern coast of Thailand.
But the experts also had bad information; They thought the tremor was 8.1, instead of the actual Richter reading 9.2
Today one cannot travel along the coast of Thailand without seeing continual parade of signs marking coastal evacuation routes from tsunamis. There are over 60 broadcast towers in highly populated areas to warn the people. Indonesia has a similar system. but still over 700 were killed by a ‘sneak’ tsunami in 2006.
As with all rare outlying events, it is difficult to maintain an alertness to something that happens so infrequently.
I have posted these photos of the aftermath.