Thailand, surviving the tsunami

After consuming a few too many Christmas beers the night before I woke late and it was likely we would miss our boat to Koh Phi Phi today. Left the hotel and wandered down to the beach to see what all of the commotion was about, people were heading inland and cars and bikes were hurtling past. A local restaurant owner told me part of the island had collapsed into the sea and a wave was heading our way, they had about 7 minutes advanced warning from the islands which had already been hit.

Not knowing the severity of the situation and not expecting a tsunami (its not like you see them every day) I went onwards to the beach to find a lot of it already under water, the wave had already come in. Contrary to popular belief the tsunami that hit the coast of Thailand was several events lasting for almost 30 minutes and not just a single wave.

People were heading inland, another wave was approaching. The sound of it will remain with me forever, a relentless roar like an oncoming train as the water levels rapidly rose and broke over the meager defenses. The water itself was not that high, but it was very powerful, the damage is done by the debris that it carries; rocks, tiles, wood, tyres, signs, boxes, bottles etc. Clambering up a signpost was my only escape, it was too late to run.

The destruction was shocking even though Ao Nang wasn’t hit half as hard as Phuket, Phi Phi and Kao Lak (which suffered the most damage and loss of life). The geography of the area protected it (and me) somewhat since a lot of the power of the waves had been dissipated by the time it reached the coastline here.

Even so the beachfront was devastated with rubble, smashed boats, and wrecked buildings. A tidal inlet used to moor fishing boats was hammered when the force of the water vacuumed them all together and smashed them into a bridge. People wandered around dazed and confused by what just hit them, the magnitude of which yet to sink in.

It was a similar story for me: had the eons-long forces that resulted in that tectonic shift off Sumatra taken a mere day longer, we would likely have been on Phi Phi which was totally obliterated by the waves.