Phuket Tsunami December 2004

Phuket Tsunami – December 26, 2004 – How Phuket stood back after the Tsunami

I didn’t write this story to stir the past, but as a witness, some of the photos I took during those December 26, 2004 events shouldn’t be forgotten. I’ll post some here so they won’t vanish from my memory. It’s not a dark memory, and it’s proof of the natural human capacity for survival and optimism.

Phuket Tsunami

I was living in Patong Beach at the time and we sure were in the middle of it but we were not on the beach that day. It started with a mild earthquake and we didn’t really worry. When people start to run the street in front of our house to reach the high grounds, we knew something was going on, but it’s hard to imagine something like this so we didn’t really move. It really started to get serious when we saw people with mud and blood shouting ‘water is coming’! And so we jumped in the car and reached the high grounds for a day. From up there you could see the damage was extensive but it only took its full dimension the next day when I walked the devastated streets of Patong. Nothing can prepare you to this.

Phuket Tsunami day – Running to the hills

Like everyone, I wish it never happened, but it did. I remember digging the sand for hours with a friend, trying to pull out some piece of garbage. I felt pretty useless, but we had to do something… anything. I told myself there must be something better we can do to help the island and its people.

Phuket Tsunami - Patong Beach

So without really thinking about it, during the following weeks, I started to document the reconstruction of the island and share it with the world. Fox News was showing the devastation; I was sharing the rebuilding. My photos were my contribution to the revival, and I want to believe that it did count for something. It was the opposite of dark documentation. What I was witnessing was unexpected, I saw how great human spirit could be: In extreme situations, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

Things were just unbelievable

Living in Patong, I was in the middle of it, but thankfully just far enough from where the water stopped. And like everyone, we ran to the hills. Seen from up there, no one could apprehend the span of the event, and only the following days we all started to assimilate the sheer size of the devastation. I’m not going to go through it, everyone knows, and millions of photos did prove it. News and reporters were always looking for the devastated areas to stand in front of, and everyone was mad at them for that. When I thought of it years after,  we could say that maybe in an unexpected way, they did their part and moved the world.

Cleaning started right away
Cleaning started right away.

I chose another path: I walked through the ruins and the wrecks every single day, and wherever I saw life coming back, I shared on my photo blog. Comments of supports were flowing to such extent that I was busy night and day posting each of them on my site. The more I posted, the more I received, until one day a French TV crew knocked on my door and asked to follow me for a few days. I said yes, it’s hard to refuse such honour, but soon I realised that I didn’t like the idea of doing this. Nothing was wrong; they were nice guys. It was just ‘not me’. I never saw that documentary.

Divers cleaning the sea
Divers cleaning the sea

So here are some of the images that meant something to me. They might not all be striking nor even impressive, but each comes with a story, a memory and a lot of emotions. Six years later, when I walked on the beach, local people still called me and greeted me like a ‘long time no see friend’. It can really be overwhelming.

Phuket Tsunami
The first kids I saw going back to the sea… kids can adapt so easily.