Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Tsunami Caught On Camera: Boxing Day 2004

Well, that is the most harrowing film I've seen for a long time.

I'm watching Channel 4's Tsunami: Caught On Camera, tourist video footage of the Boxing Day disaster in 2004. When this actually happened I was in bed, drowning in my own lung fluid from a severe bout of bronchitis while the TV was on in the background. Somewhat delirious, I assumed I was hallucinating and putting the scenario together in my head. It was a shock when the blur between imagination and reality sharpened a few days later and I realised that was no fever dream.

What's really scary is the way we behave in the face of danger. People are staring at the oncoming wave in the distance, admiring the fascinating beauty of this thin white line and not realising what's coming at them until boats are overturned and it's almost on top of them. Someone calls it "a perfect wave." Despite the magnitude and speed of the advancing wall of sludge, people are rabbits in the headlights. The locals are just as vulnerable as they have no idea of the significance of the outflow of the sea and the bare sea bed. They've never seen its like before.

Everyone's gawping. "Hey, what's that? Do you think it's anything to do with the tremors this morning?" "Nah!"

Yeah, that looks like fun. You want to yell at the telly, "RUN!" For those of us who saw the movie Krakatoa East of Java as kids we recognise the signs. Anyone who carried on reading about geological phenomena knows that, if the sea starts acting funny, head for the hills. Respect the ocean. Basic physics: a big trough means a big wave coming up behind it.

Someone finally utters the word you want to hear: "tsunami". And then the spell is broken. For some.

A lot of the running is done seemingly in slomo. One tourist in red bathing trunks is on the beach staring out and then engulfed. An elderly couple stumble towards the hotel, survive the first wave and then sort of freeze. People practically crawl up the stairs.

I'm sitting here with my hand clasped across my face, willing them to run.

For there are more waves to come, each stronger than the last. One Briton tells us how the worst thing for him was being on top of a building and not knowing if this would be the last one. Would the next one collapse the building, overwhelm each man-made edifice? Even for those in the hills, rumours go round that another one 50 metres high is coming, and another after that 100 metres.

Every time you see someone in the water you know that's a dead person in waiting. It is truly horrible.

Survivors tell of the massive power. It's been described as like being churned around in a giant washing machine with big chunks of concrete. A man's clavicle breaks. A woman feels something snap and then she can't use her legs. Turns out she's just heard her pelvis shattering. Another couple try to cling on to their little girl. The mother loses grip of her. The next time they see her she's in a coffin.

Hotel manager Mark Heather phones his wife who's in their bungalow within his eyesight, hears it ring, yells, "Move! Move!" before it goes dead. That's probably when she died.

American Stu Breisch and his diving party are caught in the undersea whirlpool and emerge to a scene like World War Three. Thousands of dead bodies on the beach. There'll be 300,000 in total. He assumes his two teenage kids are dead as the bungalow they were in is flattened and they have to dig through the rubble. It's one of the tales with a happy outcome. Sort of. They find their son, Jay, in a hospital. But his sister Kali is dead. In one of the most distressing moments among many, a film crew captures the moment the family find the photo of her body posted on a wall with countless others.

Grim. Life. Don't waste it.


Dan said...

Tidal waves seem, quite rightly, to be a very primal fear. We feel terrible for those people as we can see the end before they can - harrowing footage Anna.

harpymarx said...

It was grim watching it. And the instruments to capture these horrific moments were packed by the individuals to capture the fun, positive and timeless images of their respective holidays instead they filmed catastrophe and carnage. A natural disaster. Kinda reminded me of the 9/11 images that were caught on camera, the reactions and the fleeing. I think when people are in danger they probably think it is all make believe and not really happening hence spell like trance. I too watched the man in the red shorts standing on the beach possibly too scared and too entranced to run. It was horrible.
It was interesting how the American couple's first reaction to the devastation was 'terrorist attack'... But again it was a 'natural' disaster, which destroys and punctures so many peoples' lives, loss and collective grief. When the people were interviewed now part of me felt like I was intruding in their private grief.

D.B. said...

I saw it too -- excellent write-up Madam Miaow.

The waves were eerily fascinating, which proved fatal. Really tragic.

The mother whose daughter was swept out of her arms was just horrendous, as was the family who discovered their 15 year-old daughter had died, in front of Good Morning America's TV cameras. If I'd been the cameraman, the first thing I'd have done was turn the camera off. I thought the way they zoomed in for a "scoop" of the family's instant grief was pretty sick...

Nevin said...

I watched it on U-Tube...

We take life for granted all the time! We take our loved ones for granted, we take our health for granted... it is important to remember how fragile life is...

tundra said...

I just watched this programme. Horrific to see the final moments of so many lifes. The accounts of the deaths of young children were truely awful. What a terrifying way for so many people to die; and the poor children.......

Really grim viewing!

Madam Miaow said...

Nevin and Tundra, indeed. The footage is a traumatic but effective reminder of how precious life is.

Lisa Barry said...

What happened to the nice, I think German speaking family, shown opening Christmas presents? Do the talk to them again afterwards?