Had a real reality check last Wednesday. We were oblivious, in a bit of a world news bubble. About 7:50pm, two of my friends tried to go down to our housing which is about 800 metres from the ocean. They were turned away by an official saying it was dangerous. The language barrier meant they didn’t understand what was going on and so they came back to the volunteer house. One of them walked with me to the Foundation as we escorted a volunteer to her upgraded accommodation. The Foundation is an early education learning and childcare centre, a hotel and a tsunami / earthquake evacuation point. The streets were flooded with motorcycles, trucks, and people carrying their possessions running. The volunteer was reading out a comment from an old volunteer who said there was an earthquake in Indonesia and wanted to make sure we were all okay. We didn’t connect the two events. As we were walking, the tension and panic in the streets and the general atmosphere became more and more clear. Our town was fleeing! Motorbikes zipped by, people ran frantically carrying children and large trucks zoomed in by. A woman on the street flagged us down and told us not to walk the way we were walking. She gestured for us to go out of town and spoke rapid fire Thai. I caught one word, though, that made everything fall into place: tsunami!
She gestured for us to get out of town, to head in the opposite direction – away from the sea. I couldn’t understand her rapid Thai. But one word came through, and I feel my stomach rise up to my throat.
Eleven years and two months after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami affected my town of Ban Nam Khem, killing about 60% of its population, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale hit Indonesia at about eight pm. The fear involked and the panic that ensued was eye opening. Rightly so, our town is sensitive to the threat and they were clearly in mob mentality and panic mode. We rushed into action as I called our friend and employee Thit. He said there was a tsunami due to an earthquake in Indonesia and that we should go to higher ground.