Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

On December 26th, 2004, a tsunami generated by a 9.0 earthquake under the Indian Ocean slammed into the coastline of 11 countries including countries from East Africa, South Asia and South East Asia.  The quake created 50-foot waves onto the shores of the affected countries resulting to about 150,000 casualties making it the most destructive tsunami in history.

9 months after the tsunami, I went to Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India, Eastern part of Sri Lanka and in Central Thailand to produce a documentary film on the rehabilitation efforts of humanitarian organizations that have not been given much attention by the international media.

Almost all the countries situated around the Bay of Bengal were affected by the tsunami. In India, the most affected is the Andaman and Nicobar Islands comprising of 572 islands out of which 38 are inhabited.  Andaman and Nicobar Islands is located right at the center of Bay of Bengal just north of the earthquake epicenter causing extensive damage to the Andaman Islands.

In Port Blair, the capital mainland, most of the areas were still submerged in water.

Asia Tsunami

Asian Tsunami

What was used to be an agricultural land area, the tsunami has turned it into a lake of seawater.  Instead of the farmers plowing their rice fields, they fished for food.

Asian Tsunami

We also travelled to Little Andaman, one of the most affected islands about 10-hour boat ride from the mainland.  It was my most scariest boat ride ever!  While at sea, we experienced heavy rain, almost like a big storm. I thought we were going to die as big waves splashed through our old dilapidated boat.  People were vomiting everywhere.  I and my crew decided to go up the deck as there was no ventilation inside.  We were drenched from the combination of rain and big splashes of waves (I was imagining how we will survive if a tsunami happens at that moment!).

Asian Tsunami

At the deck, after the big storm

Little Andaman was not quite lucky compared to other Andaman Islands.  The entire island was ravaged.

Asian Tsunami

Almost a year after, clearing operation still left unfinished.  It was as if the tsunami has just happened the day before we arrived the island instead of 9 months ago.  There were still fallen trees blocking the roads, debris scattered everywhere and people have no permanent housing built yet by the government at the time of our visit.

Asian Tsunami

Due to logistical challenges, the rehabilitation process was way too slow.  Most of the humanitarian organizations operating in Little Andaman were from religious sectors such as the Catholic Church.

Asian Tsunami

The most primitive tribes in the world live in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  They have little contact with the outside world.  It was reported that most of the indigenous people have escaped the disaster because they live on higher ground or far from the coast.  Some believed that it was because of their oral tradition which taught them how to flee into the hills or elevated areas if the earth shakes that saved their lives.

Most of the deaths in the islands were recent settlers or immigrants.  We visited some of the affected communities and interviewed some of the survivors. We were also able to reach one of the indigenous tribes but we were not allowed to take photos.

In commemorating the 9th year anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami today, here are some of the photos of the tsunami victims whose stories of survival, resiliency and hope have touched me immensely.

Asian TsunamiAsian TsunamiAsian Tsunami

Asian TsunamiAsian TsunamiAsian TsunamiAsian Tsunami

Categories: Asia, India, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Inhabitants of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

andaman tribe

There are two distinct inhabitants in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  These are the ‘Indians’ from the Indian mainland and the ‘Natives’ a small minority called Andamese, the aboriginal inhabitants of the islands.  Most of these tribes are on the verge of extinction as the numbers of settlers from the mainland increased and the combined impact of forest destruction, land encroachment and various diseases and vices.  Presently there remain only approximately 400-450 indigenous Andamese.  Because of this, the government has restricted a number of islands as off-limits to tourists.

This photo of Indian settlers was taken in Little Andaman island, the fourth largest of the Andaman Islands and home to the Onge aboriginal tribe.  I was privileged to have visited this tribal group at their reserve camps a year after the 2004 tsunami. However, due to the strict law protecting the less than 100 surviving members, we were not allowed to take a photo of the Onge tribe.  The Onge people are considered as the least fertile and most sterile people in the world. On December 2004, the coast of the Andaman Islands was devastated by tsunami.  All Onge members survived because of their oral tradition warning them of the impending ground shaking and water rising.

A union territory of India, Andaman and Nicobar Islands or ANI is a unique tourist destination located in the Indian Ocean at the southeastern edge of the Bay of Bengal. It has over 570 islands out of which only 38 are inhabited.  Best described as India’s Best Kept Secret, ANI is famous for its exotic white sandy beaches that are fringed with coconut palm trees as well as for its transparent blue water teeming with marine life.

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