Jungle insects whispered and the air conditioner whirred, but otherwise, the air was thick with humidity and silence in our Balinese bungalow. Some disturbance had jolted me out of bed, an odd feeling since I had slept like a stone up until that night. I realized that disturbing energy was radiating from my phone. I saw the crack of light from my phone screen on the nightstand, glowing with news I knew I didn’t want to hear.
I was tucked away in a picturesque rice field just outside of Ubud—the only chaos that happened here was early morning rooster noises. I swiped my phone from the nightstand and squinted at the numerous missed calls, texts, and Facebook messages from my family.
My mom’s voice was angry and shaky in her voicemail: “Now would be a really good time to talk to me!”
It was 2am, two days before Christmas, two years ago..and we were two weeks into our three-week trip in Bali. The night before, on December 22, 2018, part of the Anak Krakatau volcano collapsed into the sea in Indonesia, generating a tsunami that swept over the coastlines of southeastern Sumatra and western Java.
Because the landslide did not produce strong seismic activity, there was no earthquake to trigger the warning systems in place. And so just before 9:30pm, without warning, the tsunami hit during the peak holiday season for tourists which coincided with a local holiday that attracted more visitors and gatherings.
Over 400 people died and tens of thousands were injured and displaced.
My family didn’t know where we were in Indonesia and they feared the worst. We were about 800 miles away in Bali, blissfully relaxing and reading in bed around the time the tsunami hit while another part of Indonesia was destroyed.
I contacted my family swiftly to put them at ease. Afterward, I lay in bed, trying to go back to sleep in paradise that suddenly transformed into a nightmare. At one point, I stared at the pool, waiting for it to wash over me in bed and drown me.
I tossed and turned for hours, helplessly thinking about those people that were impacted and selfishly thinking about what could have been if we had chosen another spot in Indonesia to vacation.
All my life I’ve had a recurring tsunami dream. I’m sure it has a lot to do with growing up in Southern California with earthquakes. Still to this day, I sleep with one eye open because so many earthquakes happened at night. I have a deep, spiritual connection with the ocean and always wondered if one day it would decide to take me away.
Mr. H had a dream about a hurricane right before we went on a getaway to New Orleans. It was so realistic and terrifying so we ended up canceling our trip. That was when Hurricane Katrina hit in late August 2005.
We had gotten married in May of that year—New Orleans was supposed to be our first trip as a married couple. Had we gone on that trip, I may not be here writing this.
We were living in Dallas at the time and the sky and storms were wicked when Katrina hit. An influx of displaced people came into the Dallas/Ft. Worth area seeking refuge with distant family members and friends.
Many of our friends’ apartments were filled with displaced people the same young adult age that we were…no more than 25 years old. They slept on floors and couches, surrounded by only the few belongings and keepsakes they could shove into their car when they evacuated.
Even though it was a scary time, seeing people helping people during that time gave me a strong sense of hope and courage that I never expected.
At the end of our Bali vacation—less than a week after the tsunami hit—we were leaving the inland jungle to stay on the western coast in Canggu. Mr. H and I debated about whether or not we should stay closer to the sea, but ultimately decided to.
I can’t compare Canggu to other times, being that it was my first time there. But, I certainly sensed plenty of unease from locals and tourists as they tried to live their lives.
Debris from the tsunami floated in the sea, having drifted the 800 miles over to Bali. I stared at the colorful umbrellas and warm sand, shuddering at the thought of something so devastating happening where I stood. That day I could actually smell and feel the fragility of life in the salty air.
Natural disasters happen.
Some of us have been impacted by them. Some of us have been touched by them…like I have. Many of us have no idea what a natural disaster is like beyond the news headlines that are here one day and gone the next. Yet, natural disasters are never here one day and gone the next for the people who are affected by them.
I’m grateful to know that there are people like Angela Ortiz out there (who I recently interviewed on Love Your Enthusiasm) helping with disaster recovery management. You may or may not be familiar with 3/11, which was the tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear meltdown that happened in Tohuku, Japan in March 2011.
After seeing the aftermath of 3/11, Angela wanted to do something to help so she started Place To Grow, a volunteer-led nonprofit that strives to connect and inspire a rising generation of leaders in disaster-stricken Tohoku communities.
I think we can all use more education and awareness with natural disasters and disaster recovery, so I feel like this episode is one of the most important conversations I’ve had on my podcast to date.
I recommend listening to this episode if you want to learn more about social impact—and how, in Angela’s brilliant words…“Individual choices impact whole societies.”
6 thoughts on “Touched by an Indonesian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina”
Wonderful blog post, Britt. Mr. H. was thoughtful enough to reassure me when you were in Bali that you were far enough away from the natural catastrophe. And given that we are facing uncertain times, I will definitely listen to your podcast with Angela Ortiz for inspiration in the days ahead. Heading there right now…Thank you!
Thanks, MJ! Such a scary moment for our families during that time. And, there we were snoring away in paradise when all of the messages came rolling in. Angela’s podcast is fantastic. Enjoy!
Mr H’s dream about the New Orleans hurricane is almost spooky! Such a good decision you made to not go. And being in Bali when the tsunami hit must have been truly unsettling. Listening to podcasts during my morning exercise routine these days – Angela’s on the list!
So spooky! I’m glad he had that dream about Hurricane Katrina or we would have been there.
It is indeed so very different to hear about a natural disaster from afar and actually being there or close by… It seems like it is a normal behavior for the brain to shut out scary information if they are not of immediate danger to ourselves, so we can avoid stress over that situation. That being said, we could still actually register the information and try and do something about it, if we have the means to (which is another issue).
I’m glad nothing happened to you 2 while away on those trips and find Angela’s work of the utmost importance. Thanks for introducing her to us over that episode. And lots of gratitude to Angela for doing what she does.
Agreed that it’s easier for us to shut out scary information like natural disasters when they don’t directly impact us. And you’re also right that we may want to help but we feel helpless because we don’t have the means. I, too, am so thankful for people like Angela doing this kind of work. It’s good to know that there are dedicated people and organizations who are there to offer support and recovery.