2004 Earthquake & Tsunami
Khao Lak was one of the coastal areas of Thailand battered and bruised hardest by the tsunami consequential from the December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The tsunami at Khaolak was unusually physically powerful. The maximum tsunami wave height at Khaolak has been reported to be 11.6 meters. In contrast to Phuket, which was relatively unscathed due (maybe) to the topology of the island and its bays, the Andaman coastline from Poseidon beach, through KhaoLak proper, Khuk Khak beach, the Pakarang peninsula, Bangsak, Baan Namken, and up to within ten kilometers of Takuapa, suffered quite extensive damage.
Most of the coastal scenery, i.e., beaches, resorts and vegetation was ruined by the tsunami. The destruction to buildings including internationally acclaimed hotels was very severe. (And in terms of the general landscape, in the very short term at least, only the most robust of vegetation and trees were able to withstand the force of the waves and the after-effects of the salt water.) Some replanting programmes have been initiated and a great deal has been accomplished in the rejuvenation of surrounding foliage. Studies suggesting that coastal vegetation may have helped buffer the effects of the waves have ensured that replanting and maintenance of the coastal vegetation have become a priority in the reconstruction of the landscape. It has been suggested from field survey reports that a lot of tsunami energy was trapped at the nearby Similan islands, and this energy headed east to Khaolak.
Many people died including many foreign tourists. The final death toll was over 4000, with local unofficial estimates topping 10,000 due to the lack of accurate government censuses and the mere fact that the Burmese population were not documented or recognized as legal residents.
Among the casualties were Bhumi Jensen, grandson of the King of Thailand, well-known Finnish musician and TV-host Aki Sirkesalo and his family. Almost four years old at the time, a young girl was swept away at Khao Lak and remained the subject of a media-covered intensive search despite being formally identified in August 2005 as a victim.