Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Tsunami, A Survivor, and a Movie

Our local movie theater, the Campus Theater, had advertised a special program regarding the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  Last night there was a scheduled showing of the 2012 movie, "The Impossible," preceded by a one hour presentation by a local man who had been there and survived that tsunami.  So we went.

Knowing a bit about the devastation of that earthquake-induced tsunami, I found it a little odd when we took our seats and watched many of the other patrons bringing in their popcorn, and laughing and socializing loudly.  Thinking about the vast loss of human life that had occurred during that catastrophe, I was feeling a bit somber, even though I had not yet seen the movie.

When we entered the theater, we were given a small card that listed some background information and facts about that tsunami to help us understand the extent of the devastation.  Here are some of the numbers:

1.  The energy released by the tsunami was equivalent to 23,000 Heroshima-type atomic bombs.

2. The Indian Ocean tsunami traveled as far as 3,000 miles to Africa and still arrived with sufficient force to kill people and destroy property.

3.   The tsunami resulted in at least 320,000 fatalities, 500,000 injuries, and damages that exceeded $10 billion.

4.  It is estimated that 5 million people lost their homes or access to food and water.

The evening speaker was Karl Purnell, who grew up locally and narrowly survived the tsunami on Phuket Island in Thailand.

He told of arriving there the evening before for a vacation following a long, stressful spell of his job.
The morning the storm hit, he was in a small internet cafe, right on the beach level.  When the first wave washed over the area, he found himself trapped in the small room, with the waters at his feet quickly rising.  The one tiny window in the room was not large enough for his body to escape through, and the door was trapped shut by a large piece of furniture that had washed in front of it.  He felt as though he would certainly die in there.

However, a wave of good luck (in his words) came then, in the form of the second wave surge.  It swept away the item blocking his exit.  He was able to force the door open, and then he swam to the nearest tree and climbed it.

After waiting until the waters calmed, he came back down the tree and swam to where the nearest incline would allow him to move to higher ground.  He had barely survived, although he had lots of bruises and scrapes and a large wound in his arm from something in the rushing waters that punctured into it.

He told of finding his way to the nearest hospital to have his arm treated.  However, when he arrived, he was so overwhelmed by the large piles of dead bodies that were already being brought in and stacked along the walls, and the thousands of injured folks being brought in, that he left.  He went back to that hospital the next day and received the treatment he needed.

The film, then, is a disaster drama thriller based on the true account of Maria Belon and her family's experience of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The Belon family arrived Christmas eve for a family vacation where their accommodations were upgraded to beachfront at their arrival.  Maria, her husband, and their three sons were playing in the beachfront pool and were all swept away when the tsunami hit.

It's a miraculous and very intense and emotional story, for all five survived and were ultimately reunited.  That's all I will reveal, in case you plan to see the movie.  There is so much more to this movie than that.

Now let me go back and comment more about the speaker.

After his presentation, an audience member asked him how he had come to grips with the fact that his life had been spared.  Had it changed his life?

I must say I was very disappointed in his response.

He didn't say it made him appreciate his family more.
He didn't say he knew God had spared him.
He didn't say perhaps there is a divine plan for the rest of his life.
He didn't express appreciation for the chance to have more years on this earth.
He expressed relief, but not gratefulness.  There is a difference.

What he did say, is that the experience led him to write a book, The Tsunami Principles.  In the book he examines why some people are "more lucky" than others.  He concludes that if you have learned to be a detail-oriented person who takes note of all things in the area around you (he is a journalist), and are realistic about your own self and your abilities, you will most likely survive a disaster.

In his own experience, he had noticed the nearby tree before entering the cafe, he had climbed a lot of trees in his childhood, and he knew he was a good swimmer.  Therefore, he basically gave credit to himself for creating own survival.

Tell that to the thousands of families that lost loved ones.
Explain that to all the parents who lost a young child.

What a disappointment.

Here's my take on it:  How about maybe the God of miracles, the God who is far more powerful than any tsunami anywhere, saved him?

This movie is all about a second chance at life, a new life, in fact.

And isn't that what Easter is really all about?


  1. I agree with you a hundred percent.

  2. Every day we are alive is a gift and to not recognize that is sad indeed. We live in an imperfect world where bad things happen - just because it is a fallen world. But little miracles are always happening around us and we would do well to recognize and be thankful for each of them. How sad for this man that his faith is in his own self.

  3. Wow, you are so right. for someone to think that they can survive on their own strength through all that with just luck?! That's not what it's about.