10 Years after the Tsunami

The waves up to 30 metres high moved ships to a dry ground.
Photographer: Unknown

Early on Boxing Day of 2004, the on-call workers of the Finnish Red Cross received the first messages and calls about an extensive earthquake in Asia. In a few hours, the Red Cross started an aid operation that grew moment by moment to become one of the largest single aid operations in the history of the Red Cross.

Millions of people in Asia lost their homes, hundreds of thousands were hurt, and more than 200,000 people died. The most exceptional aspect was that there were almost 4,000 Finnish people celebrating Christmas in the vacation destinations of the disaster area. The Finnish government, led by Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, asked the Finnish Red Cross for help in rescuing and evacuating the Finnish people from the disaster area back to Finland.

Hundreds of Finnish Red Cross aid workers and volunteers participated in evacuating the Finnish. Evacuating those who were most seriously hurt required a special flight for which Finnair turned, in a few hours, its large passenger plane into a hospital-level special flight offering intensive care.

The aid operation started by the Finnish government turned into an immense rescue operation between Christmas and New Year, with the participation of the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa, Finnair, travel agencies, Finavia, most ministries lead by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Evangelical Lutheran church, and many other organisations in addition to the Finnish Red Cross.

The disaster touched everyone in Finland deeply

The Finnish people who were in the disaster area were brought back to Finland exceptionally quickly. The saddest matter was that 179 Finnish people died in the vacation centres of Thailand and dozens were permanently injured.

The Asian tsunami touched everyone in Finland deeply. People wanted to help fellow Finnish people, but also the distressed people in Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, among others. After the acute phase of the aid operation, the Finnish Red Cross started an exceptionally extensive aid project that lasted for a total of seven years.

Asia’s most modern blood service centre was built in Phuket, Thailand, and it has already helped thousands of people. The concept of blood service centres implemented by the Finnish Red Cross has been replicated in other parts of Thailand as well, and the same operation model is used in the new projects elsewhere in Asia.

Sri Lanka was the second main target country of the tsunami programme of the Finnish Red Cross. The extensive projects implemented with the help of the tsunami aid of the Finnish are considered some of the best projects in both Thailand and Sri Lanka, and they will keep affecting the people’s lives for a long time.

The tsunami operation implemented in Finland ten years ago has increased the collaboration between authorities and aid organisations. At this moment, disaster preparedness uses many models that have been developed according to the experiences from the tsunami. Among other things, the Red Cross has, together with the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa and Finnair, built an evacuation hospital that can also be used in Finland, if necessary.

Read more about the tsunami operation