The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami: A NOAA scientist’s story of survival


I was vacationing in Thailand the day of the
2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. I was in my beachfront bungalow preparing to go snorkeling, my back
was to the ocean. Lots of people were on the beach and saw the
sea recede about 1/4 mile out to sea, leaving fish and the sea floor exposed. Nobody knew
that meant a tsunami was coming. By the time the wave came in and I heard people
yelling, I had no time to leave, only to brace and hold my breath. My bungalow collapsed
around me and I dove through where the wall had been. I ended up under water, twisting,
spinning, flipping in the dark. I was just trying to swim up and I had no idea
where up was but… clawing for the surface. It never got any lighter. And then you know, different
scenes from your life flash by, and I remember very specifically like, … sort of talking to
my son in my head. I said my goodbyes. Finally, I popped to the surface. I got a
few breaths and thought I’d be ok. But debris was hitting me everywhere. I slammed into
a tree, something got caught between my sandal and foot, pulling me under. I got the sandal
off as my breath was running out again. Still the wave pushed me as fast as a white-water
river. By the time the water calmed, I was probably 1/4 mile out to sea. When I got to shore, I saw destroyed bungalows
and three-story concrete hotels that had been totally gutted. There were screams and I saw
victims everywhere. But, I saw the sea level was down and realized another wave was coming. I knew we wouldn’t survive another wave. So I led a group of survivors inshore, pushing
some folks to leave their dead behind. We outran the next wave. Had the world been better prepared that day,
the damage and loss could have been less. We’ve come a long way over the 10 years
since this disaster. NOAA has developed better and faster capabilities to detect tsunamis
and to protect and warn the affected areas. We also have better coordination and evacuation
plans. But the best defense you can have is your own preparedness. You should learn the
basics about tsunamis. Having been through it, tsunami preparedness can save your life.

5 thoughts on “The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami: A NOAA scientist’s story of survival

  1. How could your back be to the ocean yet you see it?  Oh well.  Glad you're alive. 
    Why is NOAA allowing our oceans to die?  People to die from Fukushima?  Because they're not smart enough to lie over and over and over?  Huh.  Not good stewards so shut it down.

  2. We are all under cancer warfare. #Fukushima #MOX #Jetstream #Watertable #Bioaccumulation

  3. You are a scientist but you had no idea that the sea receding meant a tsunami was on the way? And if you did, why did you stay in a bungalow?

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