Tsunami in Thailand

On December 26, 2004, a 9.1 earthquake unleashed an enormous tsunami that killed over 200,000 people. My family almost drowned in those terrifying waves. This gallery shows the horrible aftermath in Phuket, Thailand. We all returned in December, 2014, for the ten year anniversary. It was an emotional visit.

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1 Minutes Before Tsunami on 12-26-2004 at Maya Bay in Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

In the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach, college students seek paradise in the Phi Phi Islands of Thailand with disastrous results. Four years later, my family had a similar experience within minutes of arriving in Maya Bay where the movie was filmed. This was the last photo I took before we were nearly killed by the 2004 tsunami. If you look closely, the water is retreating under this long-tailed boat. Soon the water completely drained from the bay and a few minutes later a huge wave engulfed me and my two children. We nearly drowned. Read the full stories in the Adventures section.

Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand
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Phuket, Thailand Tsunami Aftermath at Patong Beach Composite of Five Photos

Four tsunami aftermath photos of Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand are Two overturned cars with cracked windshields, A car wedged and suspended into the door of a hotel with a dog sleeping beneath it, An overturned bus laying on a fishing boat and building, and Tangled fishing nets spewing out of a destroyed wooden fishing boat on the beach. The center photo is Ma Ya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands at 10:00 a.m. on December 26, 2004, just moments before the tsunami struck and killed 280,000 people. Read in the “Adventures” tab how my family survived.

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Bed Sheet Escape Over Pile of Cars After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

It is hard to know if this bed sheet from a destroyed hotel’s balcony was used to rescue someone from the tsunami waves on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand, or it was used to escape the crumbling hotel and crawl over the debris towards safety after the waves subsided.

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Car in Hotel and Truck Sunk in Pool After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

The tsunami waves on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand, carried these vehicles a significant distance before the truck sunk into the hotel’s swimming pool and the car was wedged into the rooms on the first floor.

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Car Piled on Car After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

A typical sight in the tsunami aftermath on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand, was to see a car piled on top of another car and suspended by mounds of debris. Notice in the lower right corner a boat anchor. It may have come from a destroyed boat as it floated in the Andaman Sea. The white block in the foreground was part of a hotel’s foundation.

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Car Standing on its Hood Against Hotel After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

The Indian Ocean earthquake that generated the tsunami waves on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand, was equivalent to 1500 times the energy released by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Such power easily tossed this car around before leaving it standing on its hood against a hotel.

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Car and Truck Wedged into Jewelry Store After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

Two days before the tsunami struck Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand, my wife went shopping in this jewelry store while I waited outside and watched the Andaman Sea splash along the beach. Less than 48 hours later, a series of tsunami waves pushed this car and truck through the front of the store.

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Car Wedged into Hotel After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

Surprisingly, there is not much debris in this swimming pool. Behind it, however, there is a car wedged into the hotel’s window in Phuket, Thailand. The balconies above look unharmed but the tsunami waves typically blew through the lower three floors of the hotels along Patong Beach.

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Crashed Car and Destroyed Hotel After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

The force of the tsunami on Patong Beach tore off the front of this hotel, as evident by the rebar in the exposed concrete. What remained of the hotel in Phuket, Thailand, acted as a catcher’s mitt for a car and a blue tuk tuk.

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Destroyed Fishing Boat and Tangled Nets After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

Tangled fishing nets spew from the hull of a wooden fishing boat that was destroyed by the tsunami that struck Patong Beach the day after Christmas in 2004.

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Destroyed Fishing Boat Teetering on Ledge After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

This boat was fishing in the Andaman Sea when the tsunami wave lifted it up and cast it onto a stone ledge along Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand. These men were inspecting it for anything of value. There was nothing salvageable aboard.

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Destroyed Fishing Boat with Gash After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

This wooden fishing boat on Patong Beach looks like a giant sea creature took a bite out of its side. That sea creature was the tsunami that struck Phuket, Thailand, on Boxing Day in 2004.

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Destroyed Yacht Washed on Shore After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

Unlike a tidal wave, a tsunami wave is usually not seen or felt by ships in deep water. However, as it approaches the shallows close to land going up to 500 miles an hour, their very long wave length grows in height and destroys everything in its path. That’s why so many Thai boats that were anchored in the harbor were crushed and scattered along Patong Beach, like this yacht which had lost its top layer.

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Dog Below Car Wedged in Hotel After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

Look closely at this car that was wedged into a hotel entrance during the tsunami that struck Thailand in December of 2004. Beneath it is a sleeping dog. He took refuge from the extreme heat in the shadow of the suspended auto. On Christmas Day, we saw this same dog sleeping on Patong Beach while his owners slept beneath a beach umbrella. The couple’s fate is unknown.

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Man Digging to Recover Merchandise After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

The tsunami that struck Phukett, Thailand, swept tons of debris through the resort town of Patong Beach. As the waves retreated and then struck again, this material swirled around the streets. In the aftermath, the lower levels of most buildings were hollow except for the piles of litter and crushed cars. This shopkeeper owned a nearby retail store that was destroyed. He was digging through the muddy waters hoping to recover some of his merchandise. It was a fruitless task.

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Map of Phuket Island Tsunami Region in Thailand

Phuket is an island in southwest Thailand. On the left side of this map is the Andaman Sea which first receded and then roared back as a massive tsunami on December, 26, 2004, causing extensive damage and deaths along the entire west coast. Patong Beach is where this photo series was taken the next day. My family was in Maya Bay during the tsunami, which is part of Ko Phi Phi Le Island in the lower right corner. We speculate that the horseshoe-shaped bays at both locations acted to channel and intensify the waves.

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Orphanage Built by Rotarians from Tsunami Donations in Phuket, Thailand

Countless people donated over $14 billion to help the tsunami victims. My daughter contributed by conducting a national campaign and then giving the money to the Patong Beach Rotarians. They spent two years rebuilding devastated lives in several towns. In 2008, my wife and I visited one of their successes. They built this orphanage to house all the children who lost their parents in the tragedy. These men were true, selfless heroes. Thank you so much for everything you did.

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Overturned Bus After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

The third largest yet deadliest earthquake in recorded history was equivalent to thousands of Hiroshima atomic bombs and caused a tsunami that killed over 200,000 people. A hard-hit area of Thailand was Patong Beach in Phuket. This bus was violently slammed into buildings and power lines before stopping on top of a fishing boat.

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Overturned Car After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

The earthquake in the Ring of Fire that unleashed the tsunami in 2004 had a magnitude of 9.1. It was the third largest in recorded history. However, the resulting waves made it the deadliest. An average car weighing 3,000 pounds is twisted, turned and dumped upside down with ease in the ravaging water, as shown in this photo from Patong Beach, Thailand.

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Overturned Cars After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

I was nauseous from grief as I walked along Patong Beach, Thailand, the day after the tsunami. Each scene of destruction was a grave impact on someone’s life. For example, I looked inside the smashed windshields of these two, overturned cars. The car keys were still in the ignitions.

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Overturned Car and Van with Luggage After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

Patong Beach in Thailand is a major resort town that attracts many European and Australian tourists, particularly over the Christmas holiday. This is why such a large number of foreigners were killed during the December 26 tsunami. For example, over 500 Germans and 500 Swedes perished. During the following days, countries sent emergency flights into Phuket to extract their citizens, perhaps including the people whose luggage sat next to this overturned car and van. The airport looked like a MASH unit.

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Overturned Delivery Truck After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

I had passively noticed this truck the day before on Patong Beach as it hurried along with a full cargo on its way for a delivery. The day after the tsunami, it lay crumbled on its side against a hotel window. It was amazing how quickly everyday routines can come to a disastrous end.

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Piled Cars, Taxi and Boat into Hotel After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

Every type of vehicle was destroyed during the tsunami in Patong Beach, Thailand. Among this wreckage was a fishing boat, a taxi and several cars that were wedged together into the side of a hotel.

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Pile of Crashed Cars After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

The December 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake was so strong that it shifted the Earth’s rotation and shortened the length of a day. No wonder the resulting tsunami so easily piled cars on top of cars like litter in a trash can. There were five cars in this heap of steel, glass and debris at Patong Beach. Thailand.

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Search and Recovery Crew On Break After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

While family and friends searched hospitals, make-shift morgues and posted signs looking for missing loved ones after the tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand, search and recovery crews shifted through the rubble looking for victims. These four took refuge from the extreme heat inside the front of a destroyed hotel lobby.

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Search and Recovery Underground Parking After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

These Thai people are poised at the entrance of an underground parking lot at Patong Beach while a diver without equipment swam below in search of victims. He would tie the rope around a car bumper. Then, this crowd would pull together until the waterlogged car emerged up the ramp. In 2008, I learned that one of the Rotarians we worked with had lost his wife in this garage.

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Teens Stare at Water Among Wreckage After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

The day after the tsunami hit, most people walking among the debris in Patong Beach, Thailand, seemed in shock as they assessed the carnage. Sweat poured from their faces and tears filled their eyes. Their silence screamed of fear and sorrow. Often, you’d see clusters of people trying to console each other, like these teenagers who sat among the wreckage. They kept staring at the passive waters that had been so violent the day before.

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Umbrella Submerged in Sand After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

On Boxing Day, 2004, the Patong Beach waterfront was filled with tourists playing in the surf or lounging beneath colorful umbrellas. The weather was sunny and about 80°, making it a perfect winter vacation. Then, unexplainably, the water in the bay retreated. The only reaction was curiosity until it came rushing back as a series of tsunami waves. This was the only umbrella left on the beach the following day.

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Van in Pool After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

As one of Asia’s most popular resort towns, it is very common to see travel vans carrying tourists throughout the streets of Patong Beach, Thailand. The tsunami extensively battered this van before launching it into a swimming pool. Stacked beside it was the hotel’s computer equipment. Still dripping wet, it seemed unlikely that drying the equipment in the sun would bring it back to life.

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Van in Swimming Pool After Tsunami on Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand

A large block of concrete shared this hotel’s swimming pool with a sunken van as the result of the tsunami that devastated Patong Beach, Thailand. When I saw the photographer in the background, he slowly shook his head, bowed it down for a moment and then took a deep breath before resuming his photography. No words were needed to communicate our shared sorrow.

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