Ko Lipe tsunami scare

Ko Lipe tsunami scare 2012

We had a beautiful sunny day of doing almost nothing between our beach hut and a lovely equally beachy restaurant. After much glorious relaxing we hit the water for a snorkel at nearly 4 o’clock and i decided to head towards a small rocky outcrop island about 100m+ from the beach. I was meandering among the boulders at the base of this lonely island when suddenly the most chilling siren blared. The only words i recognised were ‘tsunami’ and ‘higher ground’ though i already knew instinctively what it was. It’s difficult to describe the gut feeling response to such a situation, especially having been separated from my girlfriend and knowing there was no way in hell of getting back to her any time soon. I whipped off my fins and desperately scrambled up the boulders, knowing that the only option was to get up as high as possible. It was very steep and unsure underfoot but i managed to ascend maybe 12-15m with just a few cuts and scrapes. I found a small boulder escarpment with a fine view and an optional additional ascent possible behind me. I remember just standing there thinking ‘what the fuck’, ‘is this for real’, ‘am i about to witness a natural disaster’, ‘how long must i wait here’, ‘how will i find steffi?” etc etc. I felt so bad for leaving her in the water. I had the solace of knowing she would be fine as she was near the beach but I felt terrible for inflicting the uncertainty of my safety on her. I also focused on the possibility, or probability that it would be a false alarm and that we would be in each others arms again soon and able to leave this behind us. But of course there was also the other possibility. I found myself over analysing ripples in the water, movements of shoals of fish, distant thunder rumbles, movements of boats, barking of distant dogs etc. After nearly half an hour the island speakers crackled back to life, but not with multi lingual advisories but rather music and what sounded like a chat among local thai djs! Frustrating, but hopefully a sign of lessened emergency. Nearly 2hours after the initial alarm it was approaching sunset and i had to make a decision. Spurred on my the sound of laughter from local Chao Leh children on the beach, the lower tide and my instinct that any emergency would more likely have been sooner than later, I scrambled back down. I desperately tried not to listen to my own thoughts and just focus on getting back. I started finning but the water level was such that it was easier to walk after a while. What a walk, knowing at every point that it could be the worst decision of my life. I got back to the beach with great relief. Civilisation! There were a few people looking fairly relaxed but i was nonetheless advised to head uphill until at least 19:00. I power walked past our beach hut where i found a simple but heart-felt note from steffi. I discarded my fins and followed the tsunami evacuation route signs until i found an uphill cafe with a number of foreigners including to my delight my girlfriend! Hugs, laughs, relief! There was no real sense of panic but rather a strong sense of camaraderie and renewed appreciation of the mundane. There were to be no more immediate plans for the next few days, just to absorb the experience and be. Back at our beach hut that night, well just say that it’s funny how the sleepy mind draws correlation between distant thunder claps and earthquakes after such an experience! We later learned that the nature of the earthquakes which triggered the tsunami alarm was such that we were indeed very lucky to have had such a wonderfully benign conclusion to this dear drama.


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