Date Added: Jan. 13, 2005
We live in a media-saturated world. With the proliferation of personal video and digital cameras, we've grown accustomed to getting a first person view of disasters thousands of miles away. Such images satisfy our curiosities and, in some small way, help us to understand the plight of those directly affected by tragedy. As popular as it is, the image below does not give us that insight. Instead, it appears to be the creation of someone who has seen too many Hollywood disaster movies.
The following is compliments of [NAME REMOVED]. Be sure and open the picture for a shock of your life to see what the tsunami looked like just before hitting.
This picture is not a fake as [NAME REMOVED BY REQUEST] inadvertently found it on the Lions Clubs of Australia website while looking for a Lions Club source to donate to. It appears to have been taken from a hi-rise building window in downtown Phuket Thailand. The power of nature is hard to comprehend, especially the destructiveness of water.
When faced with forwarded photographs, there are usually three possiblilities: 1) the photo is real and the accompanying story accurate; 2) the photo is real, but the story with it is inaccurate or totally fabricated; or 3)both the photo and the story about it are equally bogus. The latter is the case here.
Purported in various versions to depict the December 26, 2004 tsunami hitting either Phuket, Thailand, or and unidentified city in Indonesia, the picture is of neither. The visible architecture, infrastructure and traffic patterns (Thai residents drive on the left side of the road) are inconsistent with either locale.
Helpful Chain-Breaker, Jen, pointed out that the image looked to her to be a shot of Antofagasta, Chile, where she lived for three years. A quick search of WorldCityPhotos.org confirmed that the skyline in the image above is indeed that of Antofagasta, half a world away.
In addition, the wave that hit coastlines in the Indian Ocean that fateful day, while still destructive and tragic, was not the wall of water hundreds of feet tall depicted above. According to most media accounts, the tsunami manifested itself as rapidly rising water levels that reached as much at 10 meters in depth and swept quickly inland, before retreating back into the ocean as swiftly as it came. In most cases, it was followed by subsequent floods of decreasing intensity. That's not to say it was any less deadly than the Hollywood version. The waves easily swept unsuspecting victims hundreds of feet away, crushed them against buildings, pinned them under cars and large objects or beat them brutally with debris and other victims. The event was very brief, but overwhelmingly devastating.
Just like chain letters that began circulating after the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, the 2003 Northeast U.S. blackout and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City, the image above is popular because it shows us exactly what we expect to see. When we hear the terms "tsunami" or "tidal wave," our imaginations cook up a visual that can only be skillfully crafted by creative Hollywood producers and special effects teams.
Because it was so unexpected and most people were caught off guard, there are few clear pictures of the tsunami as it happened. But, the images of the aftermath and a death toll exceeding 150,000 are more than compelling enough that we don't need a sensational bit of photoshop trickery to stand in awe of the forces of nature behind it.
It is true that this image was posted on an Australian Lions Club Web site, but that organization removed it immediately upon learning it was a hoax. Break this chain.
References: About.com, Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com, WorldCityPhotos.org