How Ko Phi Phi was affected by the Asian tsunami

Ko Phi Phi and the tsunami

[This article was first published in the December 2005 issue of
Flyer magazine, the local Krabi guide]

ON 26 December 2004, between the hours of 9.50 and 11am, enormous waves battered the south-west coast of Thailand, killing hundreds on Krabi’s shores and injuring thousands more. The tsunamis, which arrived completely without warning, were a result of the second largest earthquake ever instrumentally recorded, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale and originating in the Indian Ocean 150km north west of Sumatra.

The damaged wreaked across the world was beyond comprehension, resulting in more than 270,000 deaths and millions of displaced people.

The following hours, days and weeks in Krabi were a traumatic blur for the people here: helping the bereaved and injured holiday makers; counting the cost of their own loss; and slowly realising the impact this event would have on their lives.

The months following the disaster, as visitors stayed away from this tourism-dependent region, were long and listless. While businesses struggled to rebuild, those most in need - the homeless and the orphaned - were identified and provided for by generous donations from home and abroad. A herculean clean-up operation in the worst-hit area of Ko Phi Phi was undertaken by government workers and foreign volunteers. The many projects started by well-meaning individuals were eventually co-ordinated and are now managed by three principle foundations: The locally-based Sriphong Phukaoluan Foundation and The Aree Foundation; as well as Help International Phi Phi (HI Phi Phi).

What happened in Ko Phi Phi
The streets of the main town a few weeks after the tsunamiThe centre of the island of Phi Phi Don was devastated by two waves of 3m and 5.5m in height, which arrived in succession on either side of the narrow strip of land between its famous twin bays. Around 70% of infrastructure here was destroyed, including the local school - thankfully closed on the Sunday the tsunamis struck. 850 bodies have been recovered; another 1300 people are still reported missing.

Now, thanks to an extraordinary effort from foreign volunteers, Thai workers and the co-ordination of HI Phi Phi, the estimated 7000 tonnes of rubble from the island has been removed. A mammoth dive clean-up, organised by Andrew Hewett has cleared the bays; and the new local primary school opened its doors to some 30 pupils and two teachers in November 2005. The streets are clean; some 40 resorts and guesthouses are open again and diving - one of the most popular activities on the island - is better than ever. Tourists are back - mainly on the one-day tour boats from Krabi and Phuket - but also staying on the island.

Barges remove the cleared rubble from the islandContinued land disputes and threatened re-zoning of the centre by the central government means much of Phi Phi Don remains empty (see picture taken from the viewpoint last year, above) as most of the big resort owners do not want to risk re-investment in case they lose out again once the government finally makes its decision. But in the ‘village’, where rented shops have little to lose, business is booming.

The north of Phi Phi Don, and the spectacular Phi Phi Leh and Bamboo Island were not affected by the tsunami and are as beautiful as ever. Indeed, many observers say even Phi Phi Don itself is cleaner and more beautiful now than before, restored as it has been by the forces of nature to its undeveloped state of ten years ago.

What remains to be done?
Although so much has been acheived in Phi Phi since December 2004, the work is not yet over. While more than 100 orphans between the ages of 4 and 16 have been identified and are being sponsored until they reach 18 years of age; around 40 more children are still awaiting review.

“The situation is still very fluid,” explains Robert Reynolds, director of the Sriphong Phukaoluan Foundation. “Some children may initially have been placed in a stable situation, with a family member, but perhaps now the uncle has lost his job or is unable to support the child any longer. A child’s situation could also improve and she could be taken out of the scheme. We monitor every child regularly.”

“We still need donations. Even now, nearly a year on, there are new cases coming to light - desperate families and children who have been moving around and who have been completely off our radar. The interview process to be accepted on to the sponsorship scheme is quite lengthy and we can’t even commit to starting it until we know we have the funds waiting for the child at the end. Many of these children are under five years old and will need many years of aid.”

As many of the families who lived in Phi Phi are still in temporary accommodation on the mainland, finding work for the adults has also been hard. Re-training schemes are underway for those who wish to remain in Krabi Town; the others are awaiting permission from the government in Bangkok to start rebuilding their homes on the island - already paid for by foreign donations.

To make a donation, or ‘adopt an orphan’ please visit the Sriphong Phukaoluan Foundation website at We strongly encourage readers to make donations only through officially registered charities or foundations. There are still, unfortunately, many people collecting money for ‘tsunami victims’ that are completely unaccountable to anyone; and who are not in a position to check that their donations (if made) are going to the right people.

S I T E   S E A R C H

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