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Natural Disasters & Travel

For anyone who has not seen the movie The Impossible, I highly recommend you to do so. It is based on the true story of a Spanish family who survived the devastating 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. (In the film the family is British with the parents played by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor.) While certain scenes are extremely graphic in nature and often difficult to watch (seeing camera footage on Watts’ character’s injury to her leg, and later on a scene in the hospital when she is vomiting black sludge she had swallowed during the onslaught of the tsunami waters), it’s the story of hope when for so many others there was none.

Natural disasters can occur in the world at any given time. While some can be monitored prior to the laying of destruction (i.e. a hurricane), others cannot (earthquakes tend to happen without much advance warning). Although Hollywood hasn’t ventured there (yet, in my opinion), I wonder about the depictions of the horrific 2010 earthquake in Haiti. For a country that already had next to nothing, a country whose buildings were held together with the figurative equivalent of a piece of tape, the unimaginable aftermath is still felt there three years later.

Local residents are not the only ones that are affected by a natural disaster. As was the case with the 2004 Asian tsunami, thousands of those who died, were injured, or lost loved ones were tourists, not native Thai, Indonesians, or Filipinos. The local economy of the Thai beach resort area of Khao Lak (where the family in The Impossible was vacationing) was completely devastated by the tsunami, even though at the time it was the country’s fastest growing tourist destination. However, almost a decade later Khao Lak has rebounded as have many other coastal towns that were hit by the monstrous waves. Although the memories of the terrible events of December 26, 2004 and its aftermath will always remain, tourism is the best way for an area to economically rebound, especially one that was greatly dependent on it prior to the event happening.

What does terrify me about when natural disasters hit is if you happen to be in an undeveloped area. While posh resorts are present in the coastal areas of Thailand, the country is still by large a developing nation where extensive medical facilities in rural areas (i.e. somewhere like Khao Lak) are rare. As The Impossible showed the small coastal area hospital quickly became inundated with people requiring urgent medical attention in an extremely short period of time.

The Impossible is solely about the 2004 tsunami while another Hollywood movie, Hereafter, features the tsunami in one of its plot lines. In both films however, the scenes of the waves rushing in from the surf (some were reported to be as high as 50 feet) were unfathomable to watch. To think that in one moment you’re lounging by the ocean side pool and in the next instant a 50 foot wave is coming at you seems like just that, Hollywood screenwriting, and yet it wasn’t, it was real life.

I have a tendancy to take cruises during the height of the hurricane season. Why do I do this? Well, fares are considerably less than during non-hurricane season months. But for the three cruises I have taken during this time, I’ve never once run into any issues. The closest was feeling the effects of a hurricane that was hundreds of miles from where we were in the Atlantic Ocean. For a period of about 15 minutes the ship slightly bobbed (this did make it difficult to play ping pong) and we got slightly wet with what could best be described as a water bottle being used to continually douse you. However, once those 15 minutes had passed sailing returned to completely still and dry conditions.

There are no areas of the world I would avoid visiting due to the potential of a natural disaster striking. That’s akin to refusing to get on a plane for fear of it crashing. The odds of your plane crashing like the odds of being in a place when a tsunami hits, are highly unlikely. However, I am not a reckless traveler in the sense that I would ever journey somewhere in the event of danger warnings. As studies have shown, you’re more at risk for something to happen, to go wrong in your daily schedule than something happening to you when traveling provided you’re exercising common sense.

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  • Reply
    March 12, 2013 at 3:19 am

    Ohhh I totally want to see this but I’m afraid it’ll make me too emotional. I’m such a sap!!

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    March 12, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    It definitely is one of the hardest films to watch especially since you know it’s not just Hollywood-as this stuff actually happened. Believe me, I’m a sap too but I’m glad I saw it. The acting performances by Watts and especially the oldest boy were incredible.

  • Reply
    March 25, 2013 at 4:09 am

    You certainly can’t live your traveling life in fear of natural disasters as you say. Although, it is positively horrific to consider, especially what many experienced on the beaches of Thailand in 2004. I will have to check out The Impossible.

  • Reply
    Always Trekking
    March 31, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    I really enjoyed the film, however I’m tired of movies and documentaries showing natural disasters from the perspective of the western travelers. I know that we can relate to them more but we shouldn’t forget about the people that call that place home.

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    April 1, 2013 at 1:49 am

    @Always Trekking-Thanks for commenting. I definitely agree with you that more should be done to showcase the plight of the native when disaster hits. The only “Hollywood” (and it wasn’t even really that except for the director) was the film “Blood & Honey” (directed by Angelina Jolie) which was about the Bosnian-Serbian war. Not a natural disaster film, but one of a man made conflict in which all of the actors were natives not to mention no English was used as the dominant language. I’d like to see a movie about the Haiti 2010 earthquake and even though the majority of the dead/injured were Haitians, I could see Hollywood focusing on a non-Haitian that was affected.

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