How did the tsunami affect you?

December 11, 2009

Tsunami damage

It’s been almost five years since the tsunami tore across the Indian Ocean, killing 226,000 people in 13 countries and sparking an unprecedented outpouring of global giving.

Ahead of the anniversary, a major new multimedia documentary tells the stories of survivors whose lives were transformed by the tragedy. “Surviving the Tsunami: Stories of Hope” is a joint production by Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Red Cross. Click here to view.

We’d like to add the experiences of Reuters readers. Perhaps you or someone you know were directly involved. Maybe the catastrophe moved you to respond in a special way.

Whatever your experience, use the comments section below to share your story.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

At the time my father was the Brazilian Ambassador in Jakarta and we were all on holidays in Brazil since it happened on boxing day, 2004.
The response of the Brazilian government was to immediately send a military airplane full of supplies and my father cut his holidays short and headed to Banda Aceh in that airplane.

My mom decided to get some brazilian players soccer jerseys to sell at an auction and collect some money for the victims. She also organized with other ambassador´s wives in order to gather clothes, medical supplies and other necessities. The Brazilian Embassy was soon enough full of donations and I am glad that we were able to help in a minimal way.

This was my experience with that infamous event.

Posted by feliperj | Report as abusive

At the time of the tsunami, I was a London-based Reuters reporter and was spending the Christmas holidays in Bahrain with my brother and his family. As soon as we saw the news on TV, I called my boss in London and suggested I flew to Sri Lanka, arguing that I was pretty close already, could get there quickly and really wanted to go.
I got to Colombo as soon as the flights allowed and headed to the Reuters office to prepare for a trip to the east coast. Together with a Reuters photographer who’d flown in from London, we made our way to Ampara on the east coast, one of the worst-hit areas.
The following eight days were a whirlwind of high adrenalin and strong emotions as we travelled around the area in a battered old van, surveying the devastation and meeting scores of people who’d lost everything.
I saw things I’d never seen before – cars and fishing boats overturned, graves uprooted by the force of the waves, bodies being burned on bonfires. I met so many people who’d lost their families and homes and I remember feeling powerless to help at times as I gathered their stories and filed them to my editors. Shouldn’t I be doing more to help?
As we picked our way through flattened and deserted villages, we’d sometimes come across people combing the ruins for belongings, searching for bodies, or just sitting quietly and observing the destruction.
It was a moving experience experience and one I’ll never forget.

Posted by katherineb | Report as abusive

i received an email asking for things like tents, building materials, etc… and having a production company in Spain, I had a warehouse full of things. I filled a truck and sent it to Estepona where the charity organisation ‘Manacare’ were filling a container, which they were sending to Sri Lanka. About 15 months later I went to Sri Lanka, with Joy Butler Markham, the lady who runs ‘Manacare’ – and spent two weeks getting to know the site they built in Telwatta , on the west coast. I went back several months later, and again, and then I took my four children there for xmas, and then went again and then I bought a house there and then all the faimily went again. Now I am planning to move there in January. Sri Lanka is paradise, and I have watched it repair itself slowly. I have got to know many peole whose lives were turned upside down, who lost their loved ones , their homes. Some lost everything. I am just pleased the war is over and I hope the people affected up north can manage to repair their lives and that the country gets a fair chance.

Posted by belindalewin | Report as abusive

I was in a diveshop in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka. Rapidly rising water filled the open seafront shop, and we were pushed in to the street at the back of the shop. Pile of people, debris, divegear, all mashed into a tuk-tuk. My husband was able to pull me out, got me up on my feet, and had me running.

It took me another ten minutes before I saw him again, floating in the street, then disappearing again, clinging on to a tree as it turned out, and then, finally walking through debris towards me. The extent of his injuries were only later revealed to us.

As the hours went by we realised that the ten family members further down the coast most likely would have been even worse hit in Ahangama. The terror of not knowing, and having to secure your own life in stead of searching for other loved ones – I don’t envy anyone that.

And yet, we were the lucky ones. We’d survived and we’d get out of there. Locals took care of us in Unawatuna, and within 40 hours, they got us to the much needed hospital in Colombo. Doctors made sure my husband got the necessary surgery, and 8 days later, the travel insurance got us back to Europe on a strecher in a plane manned by medical staff from Austrian Red Cross.

Our entire family survived, and of course we’re extremely grateful. Yet, returning to Norway as part of the lucky few never felt good. It’s like having escaped something you weren’t supposed to be able to get out of. I’m thinking it feels like cheating destiny. By leaving I somehow feel guilty on behalf of all of those not able to leave. Those who had to stay behind with their lives turned upside down.

It took more than two years before my husband was ready to return to Sri Lanka. On the day we booked our tickets we both cried. He of sheer terror, and me of utter happiness. While I was finally returning to the Lanka I loved and missed, he was returning to face what nearly killed him and everything he loves.

Two people, same place, same time, similiar stories, yet two very different experiences.

Posted by anjakb | Report as abusive

The tsunami changed the direction of my life and work. As a trainer with HCR we believe there is a valuable role for radio after a disaster. Our first effort to establish a radio station was right after the tsunami in Banda Aceh. I arrived in Mid January along with a friend and some equipment. This was my introduction to Disaster Response work and there may never be a greater disaster than this in our life time, we pray.

We struggled to help local partners get an FM station on the air by the end of January. When I saw the devastation and how valuable the information was to the affected community I became passionate to learn how to respond better and faster in the future.

The experience has driven us to develop a response system and equipment to respond faster.

The most rewarding thing for me was to return to Banda Aceh and provide training and equipment to a local station. during a 48 response exercise we spent the night sleeping on the roof of the new “escape building” just at the edge of the shore where so many died. I was glad to have learned from the first experience and helped provide the local capacity to respond in the future.

Posted by MikeAdams | Report as abusive

Ciao Natasha
Your narrative into the tsunami brought back memories. I recall waking up very early that morning and reading drudge report. This story appeared as a speck of news and my 6th sense indicated that something was wrong. As I followed the story from the early hours until morning it was evident that something tragic was occurring. Great story, love the graphics, love the voice, I was hoping for a Hollywood ending?! But you put reality into a human story where compassion for these lost souls was mourned from our global community.
Riveting research, terrific use of words (“the tsunami smashed into the coastline of Somalia”; very powerful from a readers perspective. Well done??………………………

Posted by MarcelloNYC | Report as abusive


I along with many people were on the beaches of Phuket during the tsunami. Everything moved in slow motion until we realized what was coming.

Along with many other people, I have shared my story at a Tsunami Survivor Website. Please feel free to read the stories and understand what happened.

Rick Von Feldt

Posted by rvonfeldt | Report as abusive

I was Director of Communication at the Icelandic Red Cross. We immediately opened a phone line for donations, already on the 26th. Money flowed in from the public in a tremendous outpouring of solidarity. About two weeks later, I was on a cargo plane in the UAE loaded with relief supplies destined for Colombo. The transport was donated by an Icelandic air company, Atlanta, and the plane was piloted by the company’s chairman, Arngrimur Johannsson. In Sri Lanka, I was impressed by Sri Lanka Red Cross grass roots volunteers. In Hambantota, they were still pulling bodies out of a lake that had been created by the tsunami. The chairman of the Hambantota branch said that 10 minutes after the waves, his volunteers were rescuing people from the flood waters. Nearby, a lady was giving psychological support to children, many of whom had lost relatives or their homes in the tsunami. She had set up shop the day after the tsunami. The devastation was evident all along the coast. The stench of death was in the air. Yet Red Cross volunteers were hard at work.
Thorir Gudmundsson
Icelandic Red Cross

Posted by Thorir | Report as abusive

I was driving down the galle road with my family heading to Unawatuna in southern Sri Lanka for our Christmas holiday. The road hugs the coastline pretty much all the way to the southern most tip of the island but when the tsunami came in we were on a stretch that had taken us a few kilometres inland to the town of kalutara. I still think that if we had left an hour earlier the story may have been very different. As it was the police were diverting the traffic and we only found out what had really happened a few hours later. Returning to Sr lanka a few years later it was evident that a massive amount of rebuilding had taken place. The Red Cross and others have done an amzing job of getting peoples lives back on track. These films are wonderful and very poignant. Such amazing stories!

Posted by VladimirV | Report as abusive

I had a GSM business; sale and service, it’s a good business actually. After the hell arrived into my shop, I was completely broke, I can’t start to build my own business at all. One year after tsunami I tried to find a job with NGO, help the people, and build a thousand houses and returning their livelihood. I’m working with them until December 2009 and then I return to be a jobless up to now. It’s an affect of Tsunami for me and life being difficult for my family.

Posted by Pazeth | Report as abusive

I clearly remember emerging news of the tragedy and its devastation while celebrating the holidays with family. At the time, I was running a community-based Red Cross chapter in California, USA. The immediate outpouring of humanitarian generosity and support from those across the US was amazing. It made the world feel smaller and more closely knit, for me, than at any time in my life.

Working as I and my team did to manage our community’s generosity, we didn’t have much time to process for ourselves the magnitude of this emergency. Now, five years later, I realize it changed the world: people grew closer, international aid became more well coordinated, and based on global generosity a few countries are more well prepared. So many lives were lost, but perhaps there has been some small “silver lining.”

Posted by jasonsmith | Report as abusive

I was in the UK studying when the tsunami. I remember waking up and seeing the footage on TV – it was like a bad dream. The region I grew up in, the places I have been to and the people I know were impacted by this event in a way many of us could have imagined. Five years on, I had the privilege to meet Dina, the courageous Indonesian lady in the video, who really is as amazing as she came across on the screen. I hope we could all learn to survive adversity and grow stronger and more positive like she has.

Posted by mithynn | Report as abusive

I was in the Maldives on an island in the northern atoll and remember that day, beautiful blue sky, and then out of nowhere, the noise – like a huge waterfall, people running, screaming, and finally, being taken by the wave and the horror of the collapsing buildings, blood, terrible wounds. we waited for 2 days for water, shelter, sunburned, not sure of how bad the tsunami really was until we were evacuated. it was not as bad as indonesia or sri lanka, but we were in a country that was virtually underwater – completely submerged by the tsunami.

Posted by patrickhackl | Report as abusive

Congratulations to all involved in this project. It is a deeply moving
testimony to the power of the human spirit in the face of unbelievable
and undeserved tragedy. The focus on the survivors is absolutely right
and there is a strong message of hope and recovery which teaches us
all an important lesson about life, in fact probably the most
important lesson, extending a helping hand to someone else benefits
the giver as much as the recipient.

Best wishes,

Denis McClean.

Posted by Dinny | Report as abusive

One of the best explanations of the Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy I have seen. Many congratulations to all on some great story telling and a big thanks to the survivors who told their stories.
I visited Sri Lanka three months after the disaster and, among other things, produced a radio report on UNICEF’s work to look after the survivors. lanka_25941.html

Posted by DanThomas | Report as abusive

I was in Chennai when the 2004 tsunami struck. My mother passed away in the tsunami and my father was comatose for many hours because of the salt water. I lived five years after that in grief, not bothering to actually do something about it. An organization in Auroville, called Tsunamika, helps fisher women who have lost everything to the tsunami, re-build their lives by selling their hand made crafts. I am very grateful to the Lord to be able to be a part of this organization and help out these women, and currently the survivors of the Japan tsunami.

Posted by MythiliS | Report as abusive

I was with my family in Kanykumari (India ) on 26th Dec 2004,when we reach there Local people warned us as they sea is not stable.Just leave here.But Police are just watching and allowed us to insde to the Beach ..and there we felt terrible wind and entire sea in White colour and it is an unforgettable movement in my life.we humans are nothing in front of mother nature..On God Grace we are higher ground but facing the my sisters and parents hold our hand and went to the car and we are in dileama what is going on.As we dont have any idea regarding tsunami

Posted by nithi | Report as abusive