The Boxing Day tsunami - a disaster that touched the world

The battered beach of Unawatuna in Galle, southern Sri Lanka, following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

The battered beach of Unawatuna in Galle, southern Sri Lanka, following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Photo: Caroline Gammell/PA Wire - Credit: PA

It was a natural disaster of almost unimaginable dimensions.

The clearing-up process in Galle, southern Sri Lanka, following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Photo:

The clearing-up process in Galle, southern Sri Lanka, following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Photo: Caroline Gammell/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The tsunami that followed the Boxing Day earthquake off Indonesia struck more than a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean, but the full extent of the human loss only dawned over the days that followed.

The earthquake measured nine on the Richter scale, and tidal waves up to 10m high had swept through mile after mile of coastline.

It was a tragedy that killed an estimated 230,000 people in countries as widespread as Thailand, India, the Maldives, and even Somalia, on Africa's eastern coast. Aceh Province, in Indonesia, suffered the worst, with 167,000 people reported dead or missing.

Six months later, EDP reporter Tara Greaves travelled to Sri Lanka to see how money raised by readers, in an appeal with children's charity Unicef, had been spent.


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Ten years later, she wrote: 'Even six months on, as we drove along the coast from Colombo, evidence of the devastation was everywhere; decimated houses with only one brightly painted wall left standing, palm trees bent from the force of the giant waves and new cemeteries dotted along the roadside.

'Perhaps a more dramatic indication of the sheer power of the waves was the 140-tonne boat forced into the middle of a town or the train carriages, which had been overcrowded with people, swept off the tracks and on to their sides as if they weighed nothing.'

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Most of those who died were from the countries worst affected, but there were also those who had travelled to the region from across the globe for Christmas sunshine and relaxation.

They included a number of people from our region.

James Hurren, from Caister, was 22 when he was swept to his death while staying on the Thai island of Phi Phi, near Phuket.

He had worked as an assistant manager at the North Walsham branch of Lloyds TSB, and had left the UK just weeks before for six months travelling with a friend.

A couple from Norwich, Michael and Teresa Bowen, aged 67 and 54, had been staying in Khao Lak when the tsunami hit. Their remains were not found and identified until the following March.

Jeremy Stephens was coming to the end of a three-week holiday on Phi Phi with friends. They found him in a temple in Krabi.

The 29-year-old had moved to Norwich five years before, and worked as a manager for Virgin One Accounts.

The sheer scale of the loss and suffering triggered a global outpouring of charitable donations.

In Britain, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched an appeal on December 29. It hailed 'an unprecedented response by the British public' which raised a total of £392m.

It said more than three quarters of a million households, across seven countries, received help thanks to DEC, with most of the money spent on re-building homes that had been destroyed.

It was not until May 2009 that the British Red Cross had completed its work in Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

The charity said it built more than 2,200 earthquake-resistant homes in Indonesia, 466 in the Maldives, and gave food and cash grants to nearly 7,000 families that were displaced in Sri Lanka.

The EDP appeal with Unicef raised £400,000; see Friday's EDP to read Tara Greave's full account of her visit to Sri Lanka.

What do you think? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk

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