On the 26th of December 2004, one of the world’s most destructive tsunamis, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, struck. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives during this tragic event, but Cameron Hunter and his family were one of the few lucky survivors.
14 years ago, Cameron Hunter, a current middle school vice principal at UWCSEA East, went to celebrate Christmas with his family of four at Bang Tao Bay in Phuket. The day after Christmas, Mr Hunter’s two young children, Kyle and Callum, woke him up early to go play on the beach, which was empty compared to the day before.
“I was planning to go windsurfing at 9:30 am,” Mr Hunter recalled. He was waiting impatiently at the beach while his kids and wife were playing with the sand. After a while, the person who rents out the surfboard did not come to the beach, and Mr Hunter stated that “In retrospect, was really good, and I probably wouldn’t be here if he came.”
Something is wrong
“The water receded quite fast at around 9:30 am.” Mr Hunter recalled. Mistaking it for the low tide, he and his family ran out into the sea with their buckets, marveling at the starfish on the exposed seabed.
They went out into the sea, meeting the water. “At this point, I knew something was wrong, as the water wasn’t not ebbing and flowing, the water was frothing.” Mr Hunter recalled. The rest of his family were scattered around the sea, so he decided to go back to the shore with his family. He was fortunate to have noticed the frothing water as a dangerous sign. Because of this, he managed to get his family together before the tsunami hit.
“Almost as soon as I decided ‘let’s get back’, the water just went up like that, up to your neck height, but it wasn’t a massive wall of water, and that is why I think we were lucky. We were lucky because we were in a protected bay.” Everything that Mr Hunter did on that day was ultimately full of luck, such as not going windsurfing, and noticing that the water was frothing. These actions built onto one another, making this a luck-filled day for Mr Hunter, despite the fact that he and his family were struck by a tsunami.
“Everyone is screaming, and we are now being pushed into shore,” Mr Hunter stated. “We were swimming in with one hand holding the child, and it’s a long way.” Mr Hunter’s wife gave both of their children to him, so Mr Hunter was struggling to swim to shore while both his toddlers were clinging onto to each of his arms. “It’s really panicky, but still I was like, ‘yeah it’s going to be okay, it’s just a big wave.’” This is because the reality of the wave didn’t hit him yet, allowing him to remain calm.
Just Like the Movies
They got onto the shore with the help of the man who rents out the surfboard, and they ran for their lives, as fast as they could to their hotel. Mr Hunter and his family were played by luck a second time that day as their hotel was on a hill. Even though the hotel got flooded, it wasn’t devastated like the beach huts.
“The massive wave came in, and it came in huge. We were now on a balcony and it was like watching a movie. We were watching this massive wave come in and destroy everything on the beach.’” Mr Hunter remembered, talking about the devastation the tsunami caused.
Toying with Luck
“We were very lucky again, many, many, many lucky things,” Mr Hunter concluded as he tells us his tsunami story. They were very lucky geographically as the water had a long way to travel from the epicenter to Bang Tao Bay, therefore the force of the wave won’t be that strong when it hits the Bay as the wave hits many islands on the way to the bay.
“We were just looking at each other, thinking, ‘wow, how lucky were we’.” Mr Hunter recalled thinking while watching the devastation around him. All the events of that one day shows that Mr Hunter and his family were toying with luck.
Afterwards, the survivors were evacuated into higher ground where someone managed to get a wifi signal. “It’s a bit like a refugee camp […] people sick, broken arms, things like that, and you realise ‘oh this is really serious, people have died here.’” Mr Hunter and the rest of the survivors found out that an earthquake happened at 5:30 in the morning, but Mr Hunter doesn’t recall feeling the earthquake, despite the it being a massive one. This natural disaster affected millions of people all across Asia.
That night, the survivors were taken back to the hotel to get a night’s rest. Fortunately, Mr Hunter’s room was on the second floor, so neither his room nor his items got ruined.
The next day Mr Hunter was awoken early by his toddlers once again. He took them to the pool to find out that a lot of people were still at the poolside, despite a massive tsunami just happening the day before.
“It’s a bit strange,” Mr Hunter explained, describing the emotions he felt when people who marvelled over the fact that he and his family survived. He remembers an Australian man who walked up to him and told him, “Were you the family that was out? Were you the family that was in the wave? Someone was looking out for you.”
Someone was definitely looking out for Mr Hunter and his family, making sure that the family of four had all the luck possible, just for that one day. Having no belief in any higher power, Mr Hunter was truly fortunate to have luck on his side.
Bank, Asian Development. “Damage from the Asian Tsunami of 26 December 2004.” Flickr, Yahoo!, 24 Dec. 2014, www.flickr.com/photos/asiandevelopmentbank/15906703969/in/photostream/.