The Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 engulfed 12 countries and killed an estimated 230,000 people. Although the worst hit were contained within the Indian Ocean, it resonated as a global catastrophe. Thousands of unidentified bodies from as many as 32 different nations were victims of pure chance.
After The Wave looks at the events after that fateful day, focusing on the mass forensic operation employed to identify victims and return them to their families. As one of the hardest hit countries Thailand sought outside help from the Australian Disaster Victim Identification team, who also played an instrumental role in disaster recovery after the 2002 Bali bombings.
Interweaving expert accounts with those of the survivors, After The Wave explores the painstaking attempts to identify the victims’ badly decomposed remains. The forensic team also had the additional challenge of negotiating the inevitable cultural clash involved in a large-scale international operation. As east met west and primitive resources conflicted with more sophisticated techniques, religious and ethical concerns fuelled tensions between the nations. Religious rituals influenced Thailand’s approach and its request to separate victims by nationality was deemed futile by the West, who adopted a more scientific method of identification. Aware that decomposition renders all bodies identical in rigor mortis made national identification impossible and also gave rise to the grave possibility of victim misidentification.
Unimaginable grief and shock is underpinned by overwhelming guilt at having survived while loved ones perished. Detailed biographical accounts and moving holiday video footage give a coherent identity to some of the thousands of victims taken by one of the world’s worst natural disasters.
The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami was the fourth largest earthquake the world has seen since 1900. Thailand was the only country to undertake an operation to return the 4,000 victims to their families. After The Wave is a poignant and powerful account by those who bore witness to the overwhelming scale of human and geographical devastation. It takes an exhaustive look at the scientific tactics and humanistic impact on both rescuers and survivors in Thailand and illustrates how ten years on, the effects of that fateful day will haunt them forever.
After The Wave will be broadcast on Discovery on 19 December