At 9.40 in the morning of December 26, 2004 a tidal wave hit the beaches of Koh Racha.
It had taken an hour and a half to reach Thailand, triggered by an underwater earthquake in the Indian ocean off the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, it was one of the four strongest quakes ever recorded.
It occurred in a friction zone beteen the Indo-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates 30 kilometres below the surface. The collossal energy release was equivalent to 30,000 Hiroshima bombs, raising a huge zone of the sea floor by 20 metres, and moving an equivalent mass of water, which proceeded to race unchecked across the ocean, gathering speed as it went. It reached 800 kilometres per hour and produced gigantic waves 35 metres high.
The waves hit the shoreline with virtually no warning, and nothing could stand in their way. Such was their power the waters were forced as far as two kilometres inland in places, sweeping everything in their path away.
The effects were felt as far away as the East African coast, but Asia was the worst affected. In total 230,000 people lost their lives or went missing, with Indonesia the worst hit, notably in the province of Banda Aceh. 40,000 died in Sri lanka, 18,000 in India, and 8,000 in Thailand.
It was the height of the Christmas holiday season and coastal resorts were packed with many foreigners, making the disaster a global one. 2,500 tourists died in what should have been paradise, but which became a graveyard for entire families.
“It was horrible, I can’t even describe it. We were in the club, and it was completely destroyed, all the bedrooms were flooded, and there were dead bodies and people being swept away…impossible..,” said one French tourist, her eyes still glazed with shock long hours after the event.
The disaster gained its unprecedented impact from the sheer scale of the destruction, the pictures in the media, and the time of year it took place.
But the massive response from ordinary people in the West, who donated generously, was equally unprecedented.
Writer Naomi Klein’s 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine” estimates nearly 10 billion euros had been collected by non-governmental organisations just six months after the disaster. The World Bank said humanitarian aid would cost 3.8 billion euros.
But the NGOs took a long time to spend this unexpected sum, and much of it was eaten up by other disasters.