The Indian Ocean Tsunami: 8 years on…

On Boxing day 2004 a devastating earthquake off the coast of Indonesia unleashed a tsunami that ripped through the villages in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. More than 200,000 people were killed and many millions more were left homeless and saw their livelihoods destroyed.

The Catholic Community in England and Wales responded immediately and donated more than £10 million to CAFOD’s emergency appeal. We also received nearly £18 million from the Disasters Emergency committee (DEC) to help families in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka to rebuild their lives and their futures.

8 years on projects started by the donations received by our generous supporters during the appeal are now coming to an end. On February 14th we will commemorate the disaster and the response by CAFOD and its partners by opening a new exhibition at our head office in Romero House. The exhibition will focus on:

  • The impact of the tsunami
  • The work of CAFOD’s partners in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India
  • The dignity and resilience of people affected by the disaster


Reflections on the Tsunami and loss
by Katja Jewell.

They say you always remember what you were doing when you hear momentous news, especially sad news. I certainly do, I always remember where we were on the day the Tsunami struck South Asia, one of the biggest natural disaster in human memory. We were on the way to Germany. It was also the day Charles, my husband’s Granddad, died.

We had seen Grandma and Granddad in Llandudno a week before Christmas, the whole family; my husband Paul, his mum Jeanette, our children and myself.

On that day, Granddad was too weak to get up. We were all in the living room when the priest came to bring Holy Communion to Charles. Both Joan and Charles were very well-known to Fr. Anthony, as Joan played the organ for many years in “Stella Maris”, “Our Lady Star of the Sea” in Llandudno and Charles had embroidered a huge cross stitch of the church, which still hangs in the side chapel .

On the way out, Joan introduced us all to her Parish priest and added that I had applied for a job in CAFOD the week before. “Well,” he said “I will pray for you, that you get it” and wished us farewell.

The next weekend my husband Paul went back for a brief visit. As both are keen gardeners we had bought the Grandparents a CAFOD world gifts of seeds . World gifts were still a novelty back then, and we loved the idea that we could give a lasting present.

On that visit Charles was out of bed and even had a bite to eat, wearing a paper hat from the Christmas cracker. Paul was relieved to find him better, as we were planning to celebrate the second part of Christmas with my German family.

The journey to the South of Germany takes 18 hours nonstop driving from door step to door step, so we took off early on Boxing Day and drove into the rising sun. We were all counting down the hours in our excitement to see the family, have the treats and presents and eat, drink and be merry. As we drove along the motorway, we stopped at several service stations for refreshments, and it was in this setting where the surreal news of the Tsunami slowly unfolded on the TV screens of cold and unwelcoming coffee shops. We could not believe the pictures we saw, the images of the 30 meters high wave which took away over 200.000 lives in an instant. Our hearts were torn with the excitement coming closer to my family and the sadness of the immense suffering.  About an hour before we reached my parents home, Jeanette my mother in law rang us on the mobile and broke the news that Granddad had died. We were numb, as we had not expected that at all, and the time in Germany was overshadowed with sadness.

The funeral was 2 weeks later, delayed, due to the Christmas holidays. It felt so long to wait. In the tsunami affected countries they had hardly started to clear the rubble, thousands of people were still missing, families torn apart. Livelihoods shattered.

Eight years have passed and Joan still misses her husband like the first day, Jeanette and her siblings miss their father and we still miss Granddad. We still call the arm-chair ‘granddad’s chair’.

Only, we can still sit on it, look at the last photo of him from Christmas Eve, hold his missal and admire his embroidery. We share stories and photos with the family about him when visiting his grave on the great Orme every Boxing Day, overlooking the bay high above Llandudno. Sometimes on these visits the gust from the Welsh Sea is so strong that we all cling onto each other not to fall over. It is there where; we share the grief with all the people who lost loved ones on the same day. It is there, were we will never forget the day the Tsunami struck on Boxing Day.


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