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On the morning of the 26th of December 2004, the seafloor shook and rumbled off the west coast of Sumatra. Within 100 seconds, an enormous rupture in the earth crust appeared 30 km below the seabed. Measuring 400 kilometers long and 100 kilometers wide, it is the largest rupture ever recorded and was just one of the symptoms of the 9.1 magnitude mega-thrust earthquake that thoroughly devastated the region. When all was said and done, the 2004 tsunami was the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded, and it left the coastlines of 14 Indian Ocean countries devastated. It claimed nearly a quarter of a million lives, as waves up to 30 meters high hit beaches around the Ocean basin. The hardest hit countries were Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.
The effects of the mega quake, the third largest magnitude ever recorded after the Chilean quake of 1960 and the prince William sound quake of 1964, were particularly devastating in comparison. In Khao Lak, the official death count of four thousand is considered by some to be an under estimate, with unofficial estimates reaching as high as ten thousand due to the high number of undocumented Burmese migrants who disappeared.
Khao Lak tsunami effects gained particular notoriety in the media due to the many videos taken by tourists of the sea rapidly withdrawing and disappearing, as if summoned back by Poseidon himself. The images of the wall of water that was then unleashed, and that can be seen mercilessly approaching the shore like an unstoppable juggernaut, are burnt in the memories of many survivors as well as the families of the thousands of victims the tsunami claimed. The same goes for the many screams of fear and anguish and the cries for help that can be heard on the videos shot by people fleeing for their lives to higher ground.
The effects of this wall of water were so devastating that as it swept everything in its passage, almost no structures survived, and enormous swathes of vegetation and plant life were uprooted and carried inland with the marauding wave. To give you an idea about the scale and sheer power of the wave, the Thai Navy patrol boat number 813, which was at anchor whilst on royal protection duty guarding the grandson of the king of Thailand, was unceremoniously swept up by the wave and deposited nearly 2 kilometers inland. Sadly, the grandson of the king Bhumi Jensen,who was jet skiing off the coast of the La Flora Resort, was one of the many thousands of lives lost that day; his body was found the next day.
Up to this point in its life, Khao Lak had grown to a small idyllic tourist attraction, with many smaller resorts and cabins constructed along the stunning beaches. Most of these buildings were constructed with natural occurring materials and local wood. These beautiful methods of construction greatly contributed to the charm of Khao Lak; but when the waves came, they were to become the Achilles’ heel of the small beautiful beach town. Almost all of the few buildings constructed out of concrete in Khao Lak survived the tsunami, with the roofs of many used as a high ground haven by many of the fleeing people. Unfortunately, most of the other buildings that gave Khao Lak its charm could not withstand the power of the sea and where smashed to smithereens and swept aside like matchwood.
In the years since the Tsunami, Khao Lak has bounced back with vigor and been entirely rebuilt. In fact, today, the only visible signs of the catastrophic events that happened 10 years previously are some discreetly placed tsunami evacuation routes. Apart from that, in its efforts to rebuild, gone are the bungalows and cabins, replaced by small solidly constructed boutique hotels. These are built on the back of the beach on an elevated balustrade, which offers some protection from advancing sea water. Over all, there has been a concerted effort to move on from the devastating effects of the disaster and most of the locals prefer not to speak about the painful memories of those days. Khao Lak has now sprung back to its former glory and is now considered one of the premier destinations for visitors to Thailand.