A decade on, Thailand remembers the horrific Boxing Day tsunami

A tsunami memorial on Patong Beach, 10 years on.
PATONG, Thailand — Ten years on from the devastating tsunami that rocked South Asia, there are still small reminders of the tragedy here in the tourist heart of Thailand's Phuket island.
In hotels, a small emergency flashlight sits in each and every room, while tsunami hazard signs show what to do if another massive wave of destruction moves up the shore. They are small yet striking reminders in a country where nearly 5,400 people died on Dec. 26, 2004, while at least 2,800 people were never seen again.
The Boxing Day tsunami, one of the worst natural disasters in history, was remembered on Friday in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Australia and other countries that changed forever on the day after Christmas in 2004.

On Dec. 26, 2004, people fled as a tsunami wave came crashing ashore at Koh Raya, part of Thailand's territory in the Andaman islands and 23 kilometers from Phuket island.
To mark the anniversary here, a light ceremony was held just near Loma Park on Patong Beach. Tourists and locals lined the shore after observing a minute’s silence, then lighted paper lanterns and released them into the dark sky above the small breaking waves. Children bowed their heads as they watched hundreds candles stuck in sandcastles flicker. Impromptu fireworks scared dogs and exploded in the sky as the tide rolled in low and steady. Onlookers congregated on the sand and held each other as they reflected on the terrifying event that happened in the same spot a decade before.
The earthquake that led to the tsunami occurred at 00:58:53 UTC on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2004, off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. It generated a series of waves, which can travel at 800 km/h in deep ocean and 80 km/h in shallow water, with the largest impact felt in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. At least 227,898 people were killed in 14 countries bordering the Indian Ocean, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
In Thailand, the hardest hit area was Khao Lak, where 4,000 people perished, many in the tourist resorts lining the shore. It featured in the 2012 movie starring Naomi Watts, The Impossible. On Friday night, rain fell as a minute’s silence hushed the crowd following Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha paying respects to those who lost their lives.
Katia Paulo, 45, from Switzerland lost her boyfriend in the tsunami at Khao Lak. His body was not retrieved until a month later.
"I had my back to the ocean. My boyfriend called me. The only thing I remember is his face. I knew I had to run away, then the wave caught me. It was like being in a washing machine,” she told AFP at the memorial service.
"I was pushed under water many times and thought it was the end, I couldn't breathe. I grabbed whatever I could, calling out to people who I then realized were bodies. At last I managed to hold onto a branch," she said.
Such stories of survival and death are common across this region. Locals still consider it a sensitive subject, even 10 years on. In Phuket, the area has all but rebuilt, yet the raw emotion can still be felt as the lanterns drift into the night sky.

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