Jeff Hock   Photographs of Khao Lak Tsunami   

Khao Lak Tsunami Aftermath December 2004

Khao Lak Thailand Tsunami Aftermath - Phang Nga Tsunami Photos

Click Here for a Map and Details of the Tsunami

My friend Jes had lived in Khao Lak before moving to Phuket. She has many good friends there. We heard Khao Lak got hit hard, so we went to deliver some supplies, see if we could help, and bring Jes to see her friends as phone lines were down and she had no idea who was still alive. 

Khao Lak is a small town made popular by divers and travelers seeking to get away from the congestion of Phuket, it is a one hour drive north from Phuket Island along the West coast of mainland Thailand, the entire province is known as Phang Nga. Martin, Vita, Jes and I (and the two dogs) made the journey up.
I look back at all the times I used terms like devastation, total destruction, carnage... how loosely I threw those terms around... Nothing could prepare us for what we encountered in Khao Lak, it was worse than our collective minds imagined. We likened it to what Hiroshima or Nagasaki must have looked like. 

Most of these pictures were taken off the main road, which sits back anywhere from 1 to 2 km from the sea. You can't even see the sea it's so far away. Yet, muddy water lines show the high mark to be at about 12 feet... 2km inland! A police boat sits inland over 2km illustrating this point. I don't know why this area got hit so hard, it must have something to do with the landscape of the sea bottom.

We saw many dead bodies, most beyond recognition or identification. They were bagging them because most were too bloated to fit in the wood caskets. We tried to find out what or how the identification process worked, but it wasn't clear. My other friend Chaya had worked a couple days at a rescue center and was in charge of photographing corpses, she said they were collecting photographs along with dna & hair samples, personal artifacts and finger prints... but as time goes on, I *think* they are giving up on this process. 

We asked the driver of a truck full of bodies where they were going, he said to the temple to burn them... I inquired about the identification process before burning them, he either didn't want to answer or couldn't speak English well enough to understand my questioning, I asked several of the other guys, got Jes to translate, I couldn't get a clear answer. Jes said they were just going straight to burning the bodies without ID.  I couldn't bring myself to believe this. 

After viewing the "wall of the missing", you get a feel for how important it is to have closure, just to know with 100% certainty the situation of a loved one. Even if dead, at least you won't wonder for years to come if just maybe they got washed up on some deserted island or are still in the mountains with a broken leg, but alive. You can put all questions to rest and move on. I struggled with this, what could I do, should I go police them and make sure the identification process is still taking place, and being done so correctly, do I have a role in this? a responsibility? Do I make it my responsibility? 

Thousands got washed out to sea and will never be found, does it really matter if the few more that are being found are identified? If you collect dna, how do you match it? against what? how is that all done? Dental records? how would we do that? These questions continued to grow and became very difficult for me, but I kept concluding that there must be some high level people who are on top of this and getting these things done... Maybe they are sitting in remote air conditioned underground bunkers smoking cigars and managing whole teams of lab technicians plugging away on the database. 

We visited Jes's friends house, what can one say. These were Jes's neighbors and friends. But we were relieved that we did manage to find some of her other friends alive and their houses still standing, luckily on slight hillsides. One girl was at the beach and got swept 1.5 km inland... and survived. This was the only way for Jes to communicate with these people, face to face, they have no mobile phones, so we were all pleased that some good fortune came from such otherwise hopeless despair.
We found the people very open to being photographed, especially the rescue/recovery workers. We were very taken back by this at first, here we are photographing some guys tossing full body bags in the back of a truck, and they pause to smile and give peace signs like a bunch of Japanese school girls doing Puri Kura, ("Print Club", Japanese photo booths). I'm thinking... "no no no... don't smile, pretend like you are working hard, pretend you are upset..." of course, immediately realizing the ridiculous shallowness of my thoughts. 

It was another example of Thai culture. Any American doing such work realizing a camera was on them would act out the scene, I mean, who would want to be captured bright eyed and cheery amongst bags of corpses? CNN certainly wouldn't show images of rescue workers flashing P-Diddy style gangsta poses, that would cut down on donations.  Thai's don't take life as a right, but as a gift, and they celebrate it. It doesn't show disrespect to the unfortunate, it shows a genuine sense of respect for humanity and a happiness we should all have for still being alive. I made it a point to try and not censor my photos or put a slant on them in any way.
From my friend Paul Normand --> "I came across an article that some Indian scientists had predicted this earthquake to the exact day because Jupiter, Venus, Earth, Moon, and the Sun were all in a straight line on the 26th. Their theory is that it exerts a lot of pull on the earth when this happens. The ancient Mayans, Egyptians, Chinese and Indians all used to get very concerned on planetary alignments because something catastrophic happened. Maybe they knew something we are just beginning to realize.

Police man helping out

Guiding Traffic

Khao Lak Waterfront


Thai Military helping out

Twin Blade helicopter plowing through

Beach Chair left as is

The beach...

but this ain't Leanardo DiCaprio

Khao Lak Beach

9 foot diameter tree



Jes's Friends House... she died

Other friends / neighbors... gone


Wrong place, wrong time

Assembling the team

So far from the water

Searching for the dead

Wrecked car

Clothing Supplies

Thai Military guys on break

Note the normal sized spider

Checking supplies

Soldier with child

Vita standing in my shot

Cars littered everywhere

A house

Too much work

 Family's search for missing loved ones

Their home

Where to begin?

Neiborhoods coming together

Front Seat

Back Seat

Bungalow or house, who knows

Resort Bungalow

Bringing in the machinery

Thai Rescue Worker

Another rescue worker

Doing his best P-Diddy pose

Soldier by caskets

This house sits over 2km from sea

Note high water mark

Washed up debris

Bad dust everywhere

Pulling up new electrical wires

Call can't get through

Dead coral

Water through the gates


2 km from the sea

Home of the big gulp

Military vehicles

Elephants to the Rescue

This baby's moving real fast

Serious inertia

One of several elephants

The local 7-11

Recovery team

Keep contaminated sweat drops out of eyes

Gloves needed big time

Body bags... full

Counting the hour's haul

Going to the temple for a bonfire

Stacks of caskets

Sprite on caskets

2 kilometers from water

Grateful Dead VW Bus

Monk's spirit

Information Exchange

Thai Wai

Who knows

Has a story

Sifting through clothing supplies

Getting supplies

What to do



Board of the missing

Telephone network  not work

Just a few

Not giving up

No chance

Caution, pretty graphic

Huey on the way

More postings

Searching for the missing

The look says it all

Looking through personal artifacts

No longer needed

Clueless Canine's; no brain, no pain

Community in need

Khao Lak Resort


Completely changed landscape

Endless Debris

Something heavy

Mini mall

Show of hope

Another resort hotel

Grieving women

Martin snapping pics

Monk going home

The beach

Khao Lak Beachfront

Seen enough

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Facts and Information about Mexico 11th Jan 2005, Hector Garza of Mexico comments on this 
Here in Mexico, we have seen countless videos about the tragedy that struck Asia... but none of them are as heart and soul moving as the photos you have taken.
I'm speechless.

Facts and Information about Thailand 15th Jan 2005, Visavakorn Toongtong (korn) of Thailand comments on this 
I came back from Phang nga 0n the 25th at 7:00pm
It's true! After that I came back to Bangkok (my home town) and gave donations to Phang Nga.

Facts and Information about United States 21st Jan 2005, c of United States comments on this 
good range of photos. a couple days after I saw the photo of the police boat 2km inland here, I caught the same boat/view on a CNN or MSNBC or similar show.

Facts and Information about United States 24th Jan 2005, Dusty Eatman MD of United States comments on this gallery 
Heart Wrenching to say the least. May they rest in Peace and the Living Prevail.. I will keep them in my prayers...

Facts and Information about Australia 4th Feb 2005, jeanette Moore of Australia comments on this gallery 
Just wondering if anyone knows if Moi Vogel who was married to Christian Knott has been found as yet.Would someone please send me an email to let me know.She was from Pymble N.S.W and was staying at Khao Lak at the time of the tsunami

9th Feb 2005, Cindy Wolf of Undisclosed comments on this gallery 
I can't begin to express how bad i feel for these people. May God be with them and keep them safe in his precious hands. I would so love to come there and help. Please give me imformation on how i can go about helping. I am so sorry for everyone who experienced this horrible tradgedy.

Facts and Information about United States 12th Feb 2005, Tara of United States comments on this 
I am going to Thailand in one month exactly to do whatever I can to help. These pictures really put it into perspective for me...and it's heartbreaking. I don't know if there's anyway for us to prepare ourselves for what we're about to encounter. Thank you for posting these pictures. [coming out and spending tourist dollars is the best way to help Thailand now, so you are doing well just at that. Once here, you can find other ways, there are many. - jeff]

Facts and Information about Thailand 26th Feb 2005, paul silva of Thailand comments on this gallery 
It's hard to believe I am leaving on Phuket for 3 years, I seen the wave too coming. but on Khao Lak its really hard to believe

Facts and Information about United States 5th Apr 2005, afr of United States comments on this gallery 
It is very hard to believe the destruction at KL but the thing is its happened before...A wave of the same exact hieght smashed Hilo,Hawaii(if you live in the USyou probably know were that is) in 1960 causing similar damage( you can look at photos at the Pacific Tsunami Museum Archives).

Facts and Information about United States 15th Jun 2005, John Moretti of United States comments on this 
I want to thank you for sharing your experience. I was in Khao Lak in January as a relief worker, and also saw first-hand this traumatic devastation. I am a professional photographer and a 12-year veteran of a fire department, but nothing prepared me for what I saw in Khao Lak.

In November, 2005, I am returning to Khao Lak to rebuild playgrounds for the children that have lost their childhood. I have formed an organization and will leave my comfortable lifesyle in Palo Alto, CA, leave my job and make my way back. I look forward to my mission (non-religious) and am grateful that I have the ability to help those that will need it for years to come. You can visit my website (noted in the upper right corner of this message) to see my project. If anyone will be there in November-March and wish to help, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Thanks again for your photos and story. Keep the vision alive and lets not let it fade away as it has already in the US media. Seems Michael Jackson gets better coverage. Such a shame.

Bless all those that seek help and to those that render it.

John Moretti

20th Jan 2006, ken in Chiang Rai of Undisclosed comments on this gallery 
thanks for posting the photos - very moving. wish I could have done something to assist.