IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 91



05 A Changing World | Tsunami
Major Milestone
Tsunami, 2004 –
How We Cared in a Catastrophe
Dr Pascal Rey-Herme: “The tsunami was one of the
worst catastrophes many of us can remember.
More than ever we were capable of helping out.”
arranged it himself – phone lines are vital tools
in these circumstances and Pascal would not
take no for an answer. As Roger recalls:
On 26 December 2004 a huge earthquake occurred
beneath the sea off the coast of Indonesia and
triggered a massive tsunami. When the tsunami hit
land it devastated parts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka,
India, Thailand, the Maldives and Malaysia. More
than 300,000 people died and many communities
were destroyed. It was one of the biggest natural
disasters of modern times. It also defined our
company. The tsunami was our greatest challenge
to date, and the way we responded was vital
to our credibility.
“The next thing we knew, there was Pascal
instructing a man on a ladder across the street to
tap into an existing line. We were soon connected.”
As soon as the tsunami hit we began to get calls.
The first came from Banda Aceh on the Indonesian
island of Sumatra. Deaths were being reported.
As more and more calls came in from different
locations we realised a tragedy was unfolding.
We immediately activated crisis management
teams from different centres, consisting of logistics,
medical, operations and security experts. Teams
were deployed to Phuket in Thailand, Male in the
Maldives, Colombo in Sri Lanka and Medan in
North Sumatra, Indonesia.
Within 18 hours we had established a full-scale
Assistance Centre in Phuket with IT, telecoms,
medical, security and administrative staff. The team
was based in a hotel away from the beach so it was
relatively safe from the direct impact of the
tsunami, but the working conditions were very
challenging. Dr Roger Farrow recalls how Pascal
managed to get a second phone line installed.
The hotel said they could not do it so Pascal
Left: After the tsunami, Banda Aceh,
Sumatra, Indonesia, 31 December 2004.
Credit: Corbis
Our temporary base became very popular with
the other assistance companies and government
representatives who all needed help and access
to these phone lines. At such times there are no
competitors. We were happy to help and much
help was needed.
The situation was very difficult indeed. The local
hospitals were full of patients with overworked
medical staff trying to attend to this huge influx
of patients, many of them foreigners. The tsunami
had severely disrupted all road transportation
in the affected areas with mountains of debris
covering coastal roads. Roger recalls the “very
distressing sights of thousands of bodies,
but it was the many babies who had died that
affected everyone the most.”
North Sumatra in Indonesia was hit the worst.
The earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed
over 127,000 people and more than 94,000 went
missing. The first International SOS teams arrived
on 27 December 2004. A support team, made up
of two doctors and two paramedics, went to Medan
and we sent security and operations teams to
Banda Aceh, by truck and by helicopter. This was
no easy task. Given the total destruction, maps
were no help at all. But our people got there and
immediately started helping.
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