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10 years on: Thaivisa remembers the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand

Jonathan Fairfield

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Patong is flooded!

On Boxing Day 2004, Thaivisa forum was one of the first places to report some kind of incident occurring in southern Thailand.

The initial reports seemed to indicate that Patong in Phuket had been flooded by a tidal wave.

It wasn’t until more reports started coming in that the sheer scale of the devastation which occurred on that day became apparent.

Here are the very first threads about the tsunami posted on the Thaivisa forum on December 26 2004.

Was there a tidal wave today?

'Many tourists missing' as tidal waves slam Thailand's Phuket: report

This was the primary Thaivisa topic in 2004 with breaking news and direct reports and request for information from members:

Maybe Up To 6000 Dead, Tidal Waves Slams Thailand

Over the days that followed Thaivisa forum became a central point for people searching for information on victims and loved ones.

With many people unaccounted for and with little or no information coming from the authorities due to the sheer scale of the rescue effort at hand, Thaivisa was one of the few places where people could share information relating to the disaster.

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Remembering the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand

It was a wave that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives from Sri Lanka, to Thailand, Indonesia to South Africa. The last two victims of the Boxing Day tsunami were washed into the sea 12 hours after the 1200km ocean floor landslip that triggered the cataclysmic wave. There were many Australians in the impact zones around the Indian Ocean, and many more who flocked there in the aftermath to help.

In Thailand, they call her 'Kun Su', teacher Sue.

Sue Whiteman has a ballet dancer's long, lean arms and legs that flail around her, an expression of her seemingly inexhaustible energy.

Since 1989 she has co-ordinated a New Year's Eve dance spectacular on a headland at Kata Beach, Phuket.

On December 26, 2004, she was on the plane from Bangkok heading south, bag of costumes in hand, when the tsunami struck. The plane turned back to Bangkok.

"I'd never even heard of the word 'tsunami' and I said 'well, I'll wait for the next plane, sir, I have a dress rehearsal,' and they said 'there's been a tsunami' and I said 'yes sir, but I have a dress rehearsal today for my New Year's Eve concert, can you please just tell me when the next plane leaves?' And they went slap-slap-slap, 'there's been a tsunami.'"

Through contacts she hitched a lift to Phuket on an army helicopter.

"I had never seen a dead body before. I had never seen cars, buses, trucks, people in the water as it was.

"I was airlifted down into the water and that was a life-changing thing because there I was amongst this chaos of one shoe, one leg, one dead dog, one dead horse, and I can remember just dry-retching and being in shock."

Sue Whiteman lost 35 of her dancers and technical staff when the mountain of violent churning water, swamped Phuket.

For 10 days she divided her time between the hospital and the big temple, both makeshift morgues, and meeting places, translating for desperate foreigners.

Read more: http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2014/12/23/4153829.htm

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Thai police see little hope of putting names to about 370 tsunami victims

TAKUA PA, Thailand (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With the bodies of almost 400 victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami still unidentified a decade on, Thai police were holding out little hope of gleaning any new information from opening a cargo container packed with unclaimed personal items.

Watches, chunky gold necklaces with Buddhist amulets, an Egyptian souvenir coin purse, and a wad of $1,800 in cash were pulled from tattered cardboard boxes and police evidence bags stashed in the container that has not been opened since 2011.

The three meter by 12 meter container was passed to various Thai police agencies after the 2004 Boxing Day disaster that killed at least 226,000 people in 14 countries. It was handed over to Takua Pa district police in southern Thailand in 2011.

But the Takua Pa police never looked inside until recently when, after requests from Reuters, they opened the container ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the Dec. 26 tsunami when the items can, by official regulation, be put up for auction.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/23/us-tsunami-anniversary-unclaimed-idUSKBN0K10H020141223

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10th Anniversary Tsunami Remembrance Event announced by organizations and governments

December 26, 2014 will mark the 10 year anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Here is a listing of events that have been submitted to commemorate the events across Asia.

If survivors are planning to attend events, several different news organizations are interested in interviewing attendees. Please contact (check back for additional requests)

The Thai government will organize a remembrance event entitled “Ten Years on: Remembering the Indian Ocean Tsunami” on 26-27 December 2014.

The two-day event will take place at the Police Boat T813 Tsunami Memorial, Khao Lak, Takua Pa district, Phang-nga province.

The objective is to remember those who lost their lives and show support to those who survived from the massive tsunami of 26 December 2004. The tsunami disaster 10 years ago was tremendous in both scale and scope, leading to unprecedented loss of life. It devastated the coasts of more than 10 countries around the Indian Ocean.

Six Andaman coastal provinces in southern Thailand were affected, with the death toll rising to over 5,000, comprising both Thais and foreigners, who were vacationing or living here. The six provinces were Phang-nga, Phuket, Krabi, Trang, Ranong, and Satun. The worst of the damage was concentrated in the resort town of Khao Lak in Phang-nga.

The remembrance event will show the regeneration of communities affected by the tsunami and create confidence in Thailand’s effective early-warning systems and disaster preparedness.

The ceremony on 26 December will begin on 4:30 p.m. There will be speeches and poetry reading, wreath-laying, and observance of silence. It will end with a candle-light memorial ceremony. On 27 December, there will be trips to two local communities which have survived the tsunami and returned to normal life ever stronger. The two communities are Ban Nam Khem and Ban Thung Rak.

Participants will include Thais and foreigners, individuals who survived the tragic event, relatives of those who lost their lives, members of the diplomatic corps, and high-level representatives from the United Nations as well as from countries affected by the tragedy.

A Media Center will be established at the remembrance site, the Police Boat T813 Tsunami Memorial, and also at Pullman Khao Lak Katiliya Resort & Villas.

Annie Phrommayon

BBC / Bangkok Bureau

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The tsunami by numbers

Facts and figures from the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami. Sources include the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition and UNESCO:

— 9.1: Magnitude of the earthquake that set off the tsunami. Centered off the west coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island, it was the world's third-largest earthquake since 1900.

— 20 meters (65 feet): Height of the biggest waves to hit land, in Indonesia's Aceh region.

— 23,000: Number of Hiroshima-type atomic bombs it would take to equal the amount of energy released by the earthquake.

— About 230,000: Number of people killed.

— 3: Number of natural disasters in the last century that killed even more people. More than 1 million people died in flooding in China in 1931; a cyclone left more than 300,000 dead in Bangladesh in 1970; an earthquake in China killed at least 255,000 people in 1976.

— 14: Number of countries where people died in the tsunami. Indonesia suffered the most deaths (167,540), followed by Sri Lanka (35,322), India (16,269), Thailand (8,212), Somalia (289), Maldives (108), Malaysia (75), Myanmar (61) and Tanzania (13). Two each died in Bangladesh, Seychelles, South Africa and Yemen, and one died in Kenya.

— 38: Number of other countries who lost citizens. Most were from Europe, including 500 each from Germany and Sweden.

— 1.7 million: Number of people displaced.

— $9.9 billion: Damage estimate across the affected countries.

— $4.5 billion: Estimated damage in Aceh alone. The number represented 97 percent of the region's GDP.

— $13.5 billion: The record amount raised around the world to help tsunami victims.

— $7,100: Amount raised per affected person.

— $3: Amount raised per person in another 2004 disaster: flooding in Bangladesh that killed at least 766 people and affected more than 30 million others.

— 16,000: Number of permanent houses built in Aceh within a year of the disaster — far less than the need. Inflation and bureaucracy complicated rebuilding.

— 130,000: Number of permanent houses build in Aceh within three years of the disaster.

— 0, 4 and 13: Numbers — respectively — of deep ocean tsunameters, coastal sea level gauges and broadband seismometers monitoring conditions in the Indian Ocean when the tsunami hit.

— 9, more than 100 and more than 140: Numbers of those instruments in place in 2014.

-- (c) Associated Press 2014-12-25

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Tragedy in Thailand: It’s taken 10 years to accept that my sister died in the tsunami

Nathalie Archer’s sister was in Thailand when the tsunami struck on Boxing Day 2004. Even after Sam’s body was retrieved and she’d seen photographs, she refused to accept the truth

‘The first we heard was when someone rang to ask if we’d seen the news. We put on the TV but it was so hard to get a sense of it. You saw this water … but you just didn’t understand how big it was.”

Nathalie Archer, her parents and three children had gathered for Christmas when the Boxing day tsunami struck. Nathalie’s younger sister Sam was on holiday in Thailand, staying in a beach bungalow in Khao Lak, on the Andaman coast.

“My mother was very tearful,” says Nathalie. “Maybe it was a mother’s instinct. She kept saying she knew Sam was dead. I was shaking her, saying, ‘Stop it! That isn’t true.’”

Nathalie’s absolute conviction that her sister had not perished in the tsunami was to last not weeks or months, but years. Khao Lak was the coastal area hardest hit in Thailand, a sleepy beachfront paradise where families lost generations in one brutal stroke. (It was here that the late Richard Attenborough lost his daughter and granddaughter.)

Denial is said to be the first stage of grief and, 10 years on, Nathalie has struggled to move beyond it. The tsunami swept her sister away so suddenly, eventually delivering her body back damaged beyond recognition. For Nathalie, the decade since the catastrophe has been dominated by a refusal to accept Sam’s death as well as by her extraordinary efforts to keep her memory alive.

The sisters grew up near Baker Street, London. “It was just us and we were very close,” says Nathalie, now 47. “Sam was four years younger and I felt very protective towards her.”

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I don't know where you are these days Luba, but your action that day in Khaw Lak and in the months that followed were very much appreciated by those that you helped.

(Dr Luba Matic was working for the SSSnetwork at the time & displayed a great deal of leadership when it was really needed).

Edited by evadgib
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Take a step back and indulge yourself, just for a moment, in the memory of what people suffered and sacrificed on that day and the following days.

What came afterwards was entirely separate from that which the OP is conveying.

Edit for typo...

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I was a senior television output editor in the Reuters newsroom that morning.

Watching it unfold I phoned a number of hotels in Phuket to ask if they had problems.

The response was no but just a few hours later they were wiped out.

The pictures that flashed across the globe were syndicated by Reuters and APTV.

A week later I was back in Phuket seeing the aftermath.

Must dig out the pics and post.

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Health Response to the Tsunami
The Thailand healthcare emergency response to the Tsunami drew international accolades for the way it responded to the tragic disaster on Boxing Day 10 years ago.


Being actively involved in this response, I am very proud and cannot express adequately enough my thanks to all healthcare workers, volunteers and others who assisted in reducing the pain and suffering that afflicted so many.

Prior to the tsunami hitting Thailand, we had been implementing disaster management plans based on the latest disaster mitigation theory. The plans clearly identify command and control centres, communication channels and networks, triage and patient sorting systems to ensure the most serious cases are treated first and the best response is provided in an emergency. The plans are multi-organisational, and link various authorities such as the police, military, health department and other lead organisations. These disaster plans – and those for Phuket – are linked to Thailand’s National Disaster Plan. They were immediately implemented after the tsunami hit Phuket and surrounding areas.

Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health deployed personnel and resources to meet local healthcare needs, and a central command and control centre was established in Bangkok. Additional control centres were established in each of the six impacted provinces to coordinate local activities. Deployment included around 100 teams to provide emergency clinical care, 12 teams providing technical support and health education, five teams conducting active surveillance with the responsibility to investigate potential outbreaks of disease, and six teams providing mental health support.

There were 10 hospitals in the area, with approximately 2,000 inpatient beds and 24 operating rooms, which served as the primary treatment centres. All had previously rehearsed mass-casualty plans. The small hospital on Phi Phi Island was destroyed and a temporary facility established. The rapid mobilisation of staff, with all hospitals calling in full staff complements, was assisted by the first team of doctors and nurses who came from Bangkok and were actively providing medical care within six hours of when the tsunami struck.

For the first few hours chaos, while evident, was kept to a minimum as the hospitals stuck to the procedures and directions that they had previously practiced. Critical patients filled the operating rooms and intensive care units, while less serious cases filled the overflowing outpatient departments. A large influx of volunteer medical and healthcare teams from overseas continually came to Phuket, assisted by the generous support of locals and other volunteers, whose clinical, emotional and technical support greatly assisted in reducing the load being borne by the hospitals.

Shortages of blood, blood products, and some medical supplies and antibiotics were evident within the first two days and required re-stocking from Bangkok. Of note was the shortage of Rh negative blood, which is always in short supply in Thailand. The hospital morgue facilities were also inadequate for the number of dead, and temporary facilities were established at nearby temples. Also during the first few days, a large number of patients were transferred to Bangkok and other international destinations. Dedicated military and air ambulance aircraft descended on Phuket and the hospitals were continually discharging patients, some critical, for transfer.

By Dec 30 hospital patient loads were returning to normal levels, and supplementary medical and nursing staff were released, as the initial need for clinical services had subsided. The emotional grief being felt by relatives and friends of missing loved ones remained high, and hospitals were dealing with a huge number of requests from people searching for their loved ones. The consistent media demand for information and news also continued to place demands on the hospital services.

Despite the huge influx of patients into hospitals following the disaster, the medical system remained intact and functioned effectively. From my hospital’s (Phuket International Hospital) perspective, this would not have been possible without the support of my staff and the volunteers – who rapidly offered their help, set up Internet communications systems to disseminate patient information, provided a reference point communicating in multiple languages, and gave victims a shoulder to cry on. To all of them, I say thank you.

Ten years has passed and Phuket has moved on. While this tragic event remains an emotive and sad historical disaster for many, all those healthcare workers – from volunteers to professionals who assisted in mitigating the outcomes of the disaster – should be very proud of the contribution they made during that unfortunate time.

Note: Peter Davison is the manager of International Services at Phuket International Hospital.

Source: http://www.asianewsnet.net/tsunami/23.html

-- ANN 2014-12-26

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Complacency taking over as memories of tsunami fade

Agence France-Presse

Soldiers parade as they practise ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 2004 tsunami memorial in Phang-nga province yesterday.
Ten years after the deadliest tsunami wrought destruction across the Indian Ocean, creeping complacency is undermining a hi-tech warning system designed to prevent another disaster of such shocking magnitude.

BANGKOK: -- In the morning of December 26, 2004, a 9.3-magnitude earthquake off Indonesia's western coast generated a series of massive waves that killed more than 220,000 people across 14 countries. There were no warning systems in place and not enough time for many people to find higher ground as the towering waves hit coastal areas.

Experts warn that the memory of that day is fading, taking with it the appetite for disaster preparedness.

"When you forget, you don't prepare," said Margareta Wahlstroem, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, who played a leading role in organising the UN response and recovery efforts a decade ago.

"Disaster amnesia" threatens to lower defences, she said.

It took around 20 minutes after the quake for the first waves - some more than 35 metres high - to hit the coast of Aceh, where the vast majority of Indonesia's 170,000 victims perished.

But it was about two hours later that the tsunami cut into Thailand as well as India and Sri Lanka.

To prevent avoidable losses again, the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System - spanning the ocean and monitored by hubs in Indonesia, Australia and India - began operations in 2011.

This network of tidal gauges, deep ocean buoys and seismic monitors is used to warn other countries in the region of impending tsunamis.

Twenty-four countries around the Indian Ocean have also set up their own national warning centres.

Thailand runs a 24-hour monitoring hub linked by satellite to 129 warning towers in the six tsunami-hit provinces alone.

A giant wave would trigger sirens and announcements in several languages through the towers, and send alerts via SMS to a network of officials in order to begin evacuations.

But on Patong beach, in the tourist haven of Phuket, the paint is peeling off the orange warning tower that looms over sunbathing holidaymakers.

And on Khao Lak, a nearby coastal resort area flattened by the tsunami, the signs urging people to run to higher ground have faded.

Yet population density has continued to rise along coastal areas as developers build in lucrative but high-risk shorefront areas.

Japan has invested in some of the best warning systems and tsunami awareness drives, which were tested in 2011 when an earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed more than 18,000.

The new Indian Ocean system was touted as a success two years ago when countries at risk were alerted of a potential tsunami within 12 minutes of a giant quake off Sumatra.

There was no tsunami but text alerts, sirens and evacuation drills in Aceh and Thailand fell into place.

But Mathias Mann, laying flowers in memory of a German colleague at a cemetery in Phang Nga, said remembrance was vital.

"I think it's very important to remember what happened - for safety reasons." he said.

Source: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/Complacency-taking-over-as-memories-of-tsunami-fad-30250701.html

-- The Nation 2014-12-26

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Phuket's star rises globally

Suchat Sritama
The Nation

BANGKOK: -- Phuket today is an increasingly popular destination for international tourists, its image having spread globally since the Indian Ocean tsunami hit the resort island 10 years ago today.

"Nowadays, Phuket can claim to have good connectivity for air travel. Airlines from the Middle East, Scandinavia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and mainland China are operating direct flights into Phuket, taking tourists there," said Ittirit Kinglake, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand.

Phuket has also become a second home for many foreigners, he added.

The island first became a tourist destination in 1981 when Thai Airways International started operating flights from Bangkok. Tens year later, air capacity was packed and Phuket laid claims to being "the fastest-growth resort in Asean".

In 2004, however, when the devastating tsunami hit the island and many other beaches along the Andaman coast, the tourism sector in the area experienced enormous damage and business plunged to almost zero immediately after the disaster.

"Hotels faced single-digit occupancy rates after the event, but the island bounced back to normal within just two months thanks to the great relief measures," said Wichit Na-Ranong, one of the country's most recognised hotel veterans and owner of Indigo Pearl Group in Phuket.

"Sweden was the first country to send charter flights directly to the island [after the disaster], followed by a mass of European tourists, while Asian visitors at the time felt the fear of death, but soon afterwards flocked to the island."

In the year of the tsunami, some 5 million tourists visited Phuket, 30 per cent of them foreigners. The island in 2013 welcomed 12 million visitors, in a year when 24 million foreign visitors came to the Kingdom.

Moreover, the ratio of foreign and local visitors switched around completely over those nine years, from 30:70 to 70:30, Wichit said.

"Phuket now is the best place for the international community, and this could continue through another 10 years. However, fundamentals and competency need to be improved, lest there be further congestion," he said.

The real image of Phuket and its people came through on the world stage straight after the tsunami struck, with local and international recovery teams quickly helping to rebuild the damaged parts of the island, while strenuous efforts were made to promote its beautiful beaches again.

Moreover, international organisations and aid units not only helped in Phuket's recovery, but also in providing relief for the neighbouring provinces of Phang Nga and Krabi, which were also severely hit by the tsunami.

Visitors from new markets have come to the island in growing numbers during the past decade, notably from the Middle East, China, Russia and India, as well as from other nations in the West.

The American Chamber of Commerce has also stepped in to help Phuket, by drafting a long-term plan to reposition the island as a quality destination, as well as to reinforce branding and marketing in international markets.

Despite the severe political problems faced by the Kingdom during the last high season, Phuket remained an attractive resort destination when compared with Bangkok and other key destinations.

In fact, the island has remained resilient over the past few decades, despite having faced many crises, including the tsunami, airport closures in Bangkok, widespread flooding around the country, political problems - and now intense competition.

Many hospitality-business operators on the island believe it can become an even more popular destination for tourists in the long term.

Source: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/business/Phukets-star-rises-globally-30250685.html

-- The Nation 2014-12-26

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Walking the last mile together on early warning

Foreign tourists sunbathe on Patong Beach near a tsunami warning tower on the southern resort island of Phuket. Ceremonies across Phuket and Phang Nga are held to mark the 10th anniversary of the tsunami which struck on December 26, 2004.

Region has come a long way during the past decade but a culture of preparedness and cooperation must be a constant to be able to deal with future challenges

BANGKOK: -- On December 26, 2004, the world experienced one of the deadliest natural disasters ever recorded. A 9.1-magnitude earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, triggered a massive tsunami that directly affected 14 countries in Asia and Africa. The tectonic shifting of plates and the widespread impact of the resulting waves, led to 230,000 deaths and massive human suffering.

Ten years later, we come together as a community to commemorate the loss of those who fell victims to the wrath of nature and to recognise the suffering due to the natural disasters that have hit our region. This month, several affected countries in the region will host remembrance ceremonies for the Indian Ocean Tsunami. This is an opportunity to raise public awareness in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond on the importance of building greater resilience to natural disasters, and how we can collectively work to maintain this momentum enhancing our capacities to deal with such catastrophic events.

The 2004 tsunami led to an unprecedented global outpouring of support, and a key lesson from the human tragedy was the importance of early warning. When the wave struck, early warning systems were inadequate. As a result, many received no warning except the sight of the wall of water rushing towards them. Our region must never again be caught so unprepared.

In the aftermath, the Asia-Pacific region embarked on a collective effort to develop approaches and mechanisms for better early warning systems to reduce the impact of future disasters. These efforts have intensified over the intervening years in Asia and the Pacific, the most disaster-prone region in the world. Building resilience in this region is not an option but an imperative to safeguard and promote sustainable development, lives and livelihoods.

The Indian Ocean tsunami fundamentally changed how we deal with natural disasters, making a profound impact on policies and budgets as well as operational and technical work. Importantly, the experience of the tsunami shaped the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), which was adopted in Kobe, Japan, weeks after the disaster.

Real progress has been made in implementing the HFA and building Asia-Pacific resilience. Governance has been strengthened, with more than half of Asia-Pacific countries having enacted legislation and created institutions dealing specifically with disaster risk management. The budgetary allocations for disaster risk and mitigation works have been improved - although this varies across countries. Institutional capacities for early warning, preparedness and response have also been strengthened, but more must be done. The countries of Asia and the Pacific are redoubling efforts to reinforce implementation capacities, educate vulnerable communities and address underlying risks.

The regional commitment to early warning is reflected in the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation Systems (IOTWS), which became operational in 2011, with Australia, Indonesia and India in charge of issuing regional tsunami bulletins. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) projects that this new system will save an average of 1,000 lives each year for the next 100 years.

On April 11, 2012, an earthquake of magnitude 8.6 off the coast of Indonesia provided a useful test of the IOTWS. Within 10 minutes of the quake, the countries at risk had received bulletins with tsunami warning information from the three regional service providers. In turn, millions of people received warnings and moved rapidly to higher ground. Fortunately no tsunami was triggered that day, but the experience suggests that real progress has been made since 2004.

At the national level, several countries have also made major investments in early warning systems, including setting up state-of-the-art warning centres, which have contributed to the Asia-Pacific region increasingly being considered a global hub for excellence in this field.

The tsunami also led to the creation of innovative funding mechanisms. Thanks to the Royal Thai Government's contribution of US$10 million, the ESCAP Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness was launched in 2005. Pooling resources from multiple donors to strengthen multi-hazard early warning systems, the Trust Fund has supported 26 projects benefiting 19 Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian countries. The Fund supported the establishment of the IOTWS, and has provided targeted support to countries facing high risks, but with limited national capacity.

Despite this progress, we must not forget the importance of local level, community-based risk reduction. This "last mile" of early warning systems - the vulnerable communities at risk - remains a critical gap in need of additional attention and resources. It must be a high priority to ensure that the most vulnerable communities receive timely and understandable warnings that they know how to act upon in times of crisis.

So 10 years on, how much better prepared is the Asia-Pacific region for a major tsunami? Considerably better than we were in 2004, but the full answer will only be known one day in the future, during the first few hours after a strong earthquake has caused a new tsunami. To prepare for that day, regional cooperation is essential, especially in early warning, as natural hazards know no borders.

Working together to reduce disaster risk and build resilience is comparable to pushing a big rock uphill together - if we do not constantly move forward, we risk sliding backwards. It involves developing a culture of preparedness and cooperation across the region, and shifting from a focus on response to a greater emphasis on prevention.

In June this year, the Thai government hosted the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction to consolidate the regional voice for a successor HFA agreement. As countries from around the world prepare to meet in Sendai, Japan in March 2015, the Asia-Pacific region will bring our essential lessons and experiences to help shape this new global framework.

Note about the authors.

Shamshad Akhtar, under-secretary-general of the United Nations and executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP). She is also the UN's Sherpa for the G-20 and previously served as governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan.

General Tanasak Patimapragorn, Thailand's deputy prime minister and Foreign Minister

Harsh Vardhan, India's minister of science & technology and earth sciences

Mahinda Amaraweera, Sri Lanka's minister of disaster management

Mohamed Zuhair, Maldives minister of state, ministry of defence and national security, National Disaster Management Centre

Syamsul Maarif, Indonesia's minister/chief, National Agency for Disaster Management

Source: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion/Walking-the-last-mile-together-on-early-warning-30250652.html

-- The Nation 2014-12-26

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Memories of a frightening day

Kirill Barsky
Russia's Ambassador to Thailand

BANGKOK: -- December 26 - I remember that day in small detail, as if it was yesterday. It was a Sunday. In Russia we do not celebrate December 26, as according to the Julian calendar observed by the Russian Orthodox Church, Christmas falls on January 6. Therefore, our embassy in Jakarta where I served as deputy head of mission worked as usual. Everyone was busy finishing the annual report, and even on that Sunday most of the embassy staff were in the office.

In the beginning, news about an earthquake in the Indian Ocean way out of the seacoast of Sumatra impressed nobody: Earthquakes are frequent in Indonesia. A few hours later Antara News Agency reported several dozens of casualties in Aceh, a province in the northern part of Sumatra. Around 11am, worrying reports started to arrive - not dozens but hundreds dead. The embassy immediately sent a cable to Moscow, suggesting that the government of the Russian Federation should express condolences to the government of the Republic of Indonesia. I still had an uneasy feeling. What puzzled me was that various sources of information that we were checking provided conflicting figures.

On the one hand, it was not a surprise. Aceh was under martial law, and limited access to information about situation in this province did not seem strange. On the other hand, however, the Internet was full of breaking news of disasters in the South of Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives while experts were discussing the magnitude of the earthquake and how high the tsunami waves were. The map also suggested that something very bad could happen to the people of North Sumatra - the west coast of Aceh was so close to the epicentre of the earthquake that avoiding the tsunami tide for the majority of the local population was simply impossible. By evening blood-curdling statistics, though still not reliable, were more than convincing. The embassy urged Moscow to be prepared to provide humanitarian assistance to Jakarta if the Indonesian government asked for help. Only weeks later we learned that Aceh had suffered the heaviest human losses - 166,334 people died within minutes or even seconds.

The last days of December and the first days of January were a busy period as the embassy engaged in operational planning with the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Defence and BAKORNAS (National Committee on Emergency Coordination). The challenges lay not only in logistics - the airport in Bandar-Aceh and all the roads in the province had been destroyed. The authorities had to make a difficult decision to open up the once restricted area of "special operation" against the insurgency to foreigners and to set up a clear-cut mechanism to manage the aid, both national and international. It took a while to sort out the problem.

In other countries hit by the tsunami, things worked faster. In Sri Lanka, for example, the Russian EMERCOM rescue team landed as early as December 27. On December 30, the first plane owned by the Ministry of Emergencies of Russia flew from Moscow to Phuket, delivering 3 tonnes of drinking water and evacuating more than 80 persons of various nationalities back to Russia and Europe.

Finally, on January 7, 2005, a Russian flight arrived in Medan from where the aid was carried to Bandar-Aceh by helicopters. Within one week, the Russian army deployed a military field hospital in Aceh, which worked there for 40 days, seven days a week around the clock. Every week, two diplomats from our embassy travelled to Aceh on a rotation basis and stayed there from seven to 10 days. Since all of them spoke Bahasa Indonesia, they were indispensable in helping our military doctors with translation and performing other duties. My ambassador and I remained in Jakarta coordinating the operation with Moscow and the Indonesian government. In the field, it was really hard but in Jakarta we were not idling either. Sometimes, we even had to sleep in the office.

Our colleagues did a great job here in Thailand, too. Immediately after the tsunami, several embassy staffers rushed to the South to search for Russian tourists who were not registered alive (10 Russians lost their lives) as well as to render necessary help to Russian tourists (about 900 persons) who were affected by the catastrophe. From January 7-9, four charter flights delivered humanitarian aid to Phuket and evacuated up to 100 Russian citizens. During the first five days, the "hotline" of the Russian embassy in Bangkok answered more than 2,000 calls a day. I would also like to pay high tribute to the Thai government, all authorities concerned, members of the business community and public at large for providing high level of coordination for rescue works, organising within days express help to those who survived and supplying them with all necessary means.

All in all, Russian emergency planes brought to the tsunami-stricken areas of Southeast Asia more than 200 tonnes of cargo. About 20 tonnes of Russian wheat were allocated for Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka through the World Food Program. The Russian government donated US$22 million to various humanitarian relief funds designed to overcome the catastrophic consequences of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami. Together with the cost of field hospitals, medication and food supply, our contribution amounted to over $33 million. But what was not less important - our rescuers, doctors, nurses and diplomats gave everything they had, from the bottom of their hearts, to help the people in need.

Ten years have passed, but I remember December 26, 2004 as if it was yesterday. A frightening day. We must do everything so that a similar disaster does not happen again. Russia has come up with an initiative to establish a Global Crisis Centre Network to streamline standards and procedures of effective emergency interaction in an on-line regime. Instead of playing political games, we must strengthen international cooperation. When nations fight, people die. When they cooperate, lives can be saved.

Source: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion/Memories-of-a-frightening-day-30250645.html

-- The Nation 2014-12-26

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Ready these stories reminds me that we got lucky. We were on the beach in Koh Lanta when it hit. Though we had to move through the waves I think the structure of the cove on that beach had slowed down the wave significantly. On the day it was very scary and looking back it is still very poignant. We know, however, that our story is by far one of the milder stories out there and when life gets us down we just remember how lucky we were that day.

Without that Tsunami I would still be slowly killing myself at a desk in London. For all that death I know it saved at least 1 life.

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