Sunday, April 26, 2009

CHAPTER 17: Rumbles Down Below


This is an excerpt from Tsunami survivor Aaron Le Boutillier in his book “And Then One Morning.” For anyone caught up in the tsunami, however, it was all over in a matter of minutes. They were either alive or dead. Over a quarter of a million people lost their lives while millions who survived had to deal with the tragedy in countless ways. Aaron continues to live and work in Southeast Asia. The proceeds of his book continue to make a difference in Thailand. Read more about Aaron and his book here:

Aaron Le Boutillier

Chapter 17 - Rumbles down below

We live on a generally solid little planet that provides us with everything we need. We have enough oxygen to breath. But not enough to fry the atmosphere every time we strike a match. We get just enough heat from the sun to make sure that our Little Planet’s water does not all turn to ice. But we don’t get so much heat that all of our Little Planet’s precious water gets boiled away as steam. Astronomers hunting for life in the Universe are looking for a planet like ours, around a star like ours. And at roughly the same distance as ours. They call this the Goldilocks Zone. Everything is just right. But our Little Planet is not quite as quiet as we generally understand. It is certainly not an inert lump of rock. Deep within, the pressures and heat turn rocks and metals to liquid.

I learned all about the powers within our Little Planet when I did my geography O Level at sixteen. However, that tiny little part of the Little Planet that I come from, the island called Jersey, seemed to be, to me, an especially quiet and innocuous corner of our Little Planet. Most of the dramatic stuff I learned in our Geography lessons does not happen on Jersey. We don’t have a waterfall like Niagara or the Victoria Falls where billions of gallons of water flow over every hour or so. Jersey does not have volcanoes and earthquakes – the two dramatic events that helped to show that a crackpot idea called Continental Drift really is real. These things happen elsewhere. Jersey doesn’t drift. It’s always been where it is.

I recall my Geography teacher in the eighties teaching us all about Continental Drift. And he was man enough to admit that when he was our age, indeed when he was learning Geography at university, he had learned that Continental Drift was a joke theory. Not to be taken seriously. Something to have a snigger about.

But he now freely admitted to all us wide-eyed sixteen year olds that continents move about.

“But Sir. We’re a titchy little island, Sir. What about Jersey, Sir? Do we move about?

The Theory of Continental Drift could be used to explain why South America and Africa looked like parts of a jig-saw puzzle. It was not some coincidence. They really had been joined at one time. And then they drifted apart and made the Atlantic Ocean. And, especially weird for a lad from Jersey, Continental Drift helped to explain how an island called India could make a head-on collision with Asia about fifty million years ago. My Geography teacher taught us that the Himalaya was living proof of that massive collision. Scrunched up like the bonnet of a car after it had run into a largely immoveable object such as a brick wall at high speed.

“Sir, will Jersey smash into France? Or will it smash into England? I hope it’s England, Sir.”

A few years later I sat amazed in front of the television as Sir David Attenborough struggled out of breath high up in the Himalaya as he showed fossils of marine animals.

Marine fossils high up in the mountains? Excuse me.

I learned that South America and Africa have been torn apart by the previously crackpot Theory of Continental Drift. And I learned that the Himalayan Mountains, the tallest on our Little Planet, were created by the high-speed collision of a large island called India with the even larger lump of land called continental Asia. However, elsewhere on our generally friendly Little Planet there are other areas where continents are not being torn apart or being rammed into each other. These are areas where continents are rubbing along-side each other.

A sport I am particularly keen on is wrestling/grappling. And I hasten to add I do Real Wrestling. I do not mean the farce where over-muscled, steroid-compromised show-biz characters wearing ridiculous face-paint and garish costumes, and going by dramatic names like Gentleman Jackhammer Jim slam each other around while semi-naked porn-star wanna-be’s urge them on. No, wrestling in its purest form involves two powerful, equally matched forces coming together. Tremendous amounts of energy between two human beings gets expended while the two forces come together. But then one gives. And suddenly it is all over. There is a winner and there is a loser.

I had grown up with dramatic stories showing us all how wild and hugely uncertain our Little Planet can really be. Over thirty five thousand human beings got a sudden but very final (for them) taste of that violence one morning in late August, 1883. A little island, smaller than Jersey and only slightly bigger than Phi Phi, decided to evaporate. Of course, islands don’t evaporate. Not really. But in one almighty explosion, several billion tonnes of Krakatoa went somewhere else. That is evaporation by my understanding.

We now know that much of it sank into the big hole that opened up beneath it which was created by the explosive powers way down deep beneath the ocean waves. The rest of it ended up in the upper atmosphere of our Little Planet and spent the next few years giving us all spectacular sunsets. But thirty five thousand people never got to be dazzled by these spectacular sunsets. They awoke one morning and went about their usual daily routine. Stopped dramatically by a wall of water that was so high it left a Dutch warship several miles inland and over a hundred feet above the level of the sea. The twenty eight sailors on that warship never knew what hit them. Neither did the other thirty five thousand or so people that died that morning.

And so it was on December 26, 2004. The day of the Big Wave.


Read more from Aaron Le Boutillier’ s book, “And Then One Morning” here:

Chapter 16 - A Washing Machine Springs a Leak (what happened in those initial minutes when the first wave hit).

Chapter 17 - Rumbles down below(in a brief second – how do you process what is happening to you?)

Chapter 18 - Hey Ma, I’m on top of the World (Saving people!)

Chapter 19 – On the Edge of the Ring of Fire(How could this happen?)

Chapter 20 – Phi Phi Hotel Becomes Sanctuary

Read more survivor stories at: TSUNAMI SURVIVOR SITE



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