Spring Break post 4.1: Koh Phi Phi – the 10cm Wave

We got to Koh Phi Phi, our last destination, around 1:30-2pm on April 11th. Meghan, Eva and myself stayed at the October Guest House, a youth hostel about 2 minutes away from the beach. The other six stayed at another place that was about half way up the mountain on the island, and were not exactly close to the beach (that being said, the island is very small so it was all relative). The three of us in the Guest House wanted to hit up the beach almost immediately, so we put on our suits, snagged our towels and books, and headed over there. The other six were either still hungover from the night before, hungry, tired, or some combination of all 3 and didn’t come with us. We got to the beach, swam in the water, read and just hung out in the sun until about 3:30-4pm…that is when things got real.

SIRENS EVERYWHERE! *The second time the three of us had heard them this trip.* I look up and people start running out of the water, off the beach, and from the restaurants. I look at Meghan and Eva for some answers and they have the same confused look on their faces as I do. After about 1 minute of not really moving anywhere yet still watching the chaos, the sirens stopped announcing whatever they were saying in Thai, and it turned to English:

“There has been a large earthquake in the sea. A tsunami is expected. Evacuated the beach immediately.”

………

…………..are you kidding me?

In that moment (as well as for about the next 20 minutes), I was absolutely terrified. I could not believe what I had just heard. It took me about 30 seconds to collect myself, but once I did I looked at Meghan and Eva again and we just grabbed our stuff simultaneously and started running. Keep in mind, this island was completely destroyed in 2004 when the last tsunami rocked South East Asia. Everything was wiped out and about 35,000 people died. We didn’t know when the earthquake had occurred, and we didn’t know when this wave was going to hit. What we DID know was that we were on the beach and needed to get off of it and ascend the mountain asap. So we ran.

We quickly got to our hostel, made sure we had our passports and cameras and everything worth saving, and then ran up the mountain as fast as we could. We tried to call the others, but the phone lines were down for almost 2 hours and we could not reach them. We got to the top of the mountain still with no clue where Jeff, Bekah, Freddie, Jon, Annie, or Mitch were, and we did not get through to them until about 6:30pm. When we did finally talk to them, they told us they slept through the sirens and didn’t know there was a tsunami warning until they tried to go down to beach level to get some food! Crazy stuff. They spent their tsunami warning in an air conditioned room half way up the mountain while watching the news, while Meghan, Eva and myself were up on top of the mountain simply waiting.

To make a long story short, there was no devastating wave that hit the island. The wave that “hit” the island was about 10cm high, which is clearly way less of what was expected, however still technically a tsunami. (I SURVIVED A TSUNAMI!!! Bet you can’t say that). When the sirens went off, they were not sure how the tectonic plates had shifted. Luckily for everyone in South East Asia, it was not in such a way that would cause a massive wave of destruction.

If anything positive came out of this experience, it is that the path we took up the mountain led us to an amazing viewpoint on the island. We were able to watch the sunset up there, being about 186 meters above sea level, and got some amazing photos. The first picture is pretty much the entire island, and the second is of the sun setting.

Gorgeous, right?

We were up there until about 9pm. Two guys that we met, one from New Zealand and the other from Germany, had internet on their phones and were checking the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center every 10 minutes or so. Here is a link to a BBC article about this specific earthquake: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17675399

When we saw that they dismissed the tsunami warning we headed down the mountain to meet up with the others and get some food. Within about an hour, everything was open again and people were ready to party. Everyone was thrilled that there was no tsunami, and the bars were raging all night. The best part about the whole situation was that I was turning 21 at midnight and it was still Jon’s 21st birthday all day. What a 21st birthday to remember, for both of us.

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