The wave Sweden will never forget

The Local Sweden
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The wave Sweden will never forget
Tsunami "Wall of Remembrance" in Mai Khao in northern Phuket. Photo: TT

The Local looks at how Swedes are remembering the tidal wave that shook South-East Asia exactly ten years ago, leaving 543 Swedes dead.


The number 543 resonates loudly in this nation - no other disaster in Swedish modern history has arguably struck this country as hard, not even the Baltic ferry MS Estonia catastrophe which took 852 lives, 501 of them Swedish. 

That was in 1994. 

It was a decade later that as many as 20,000 Swedish tourists bathed in the sun when the third largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph shook the earth. 

The entire planet vibrated as much as one centimetre.

It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, and by the time the shockwaves subsided ten minutes later, the lives of hundreds of thousands were turned completely upside down.

But perhaps nowhere in the Western world was this more true than for Sweden - which suffered the greatest number of casualties in Europe and in the West.

Now, one decade later, the nation remembers the kind of wound that doesn’t heal. 

For many Swedes, it is difficult to believe that ten years have passed already. And with a population just shy of 10 million, the theory of six degrees of separation could actually mean every Swede has in some way been touched.

In an interview with the TT news agency on Monday, King Carl XVI Gustaf encouraged those suffering from losses to talk about "fun memories and experiences as much as possible", describing the tsunami as an "event that no Swede forgets". 

Sweden's king pays his respects two months after the tsunami, here in Khao Lak. Photo: TT

The quake took at least 230,000 lives - the true toll will never be known - from 14 countries, with Indonesia the hardest-hit, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

Thailand, in fact, was where Sweden lost most of its tsunami victims, many perishing in popular Thai holiday spots such as Phuket and Khao Lak.

The tsunami, however, ultimately did little to change Swedes' affinity for Thailand and its pristine beaches, and the Swedish Church will hold a memorial service there on the anniversary of the tragedy in Khao Lak, where many Swedes reside or typically visit this time of year.

Meanwhile in Sweden, the church and royal family will hold a memorial service for all victims at 4pm at the Uppsala Cathedral on December 26th.

A forensic worker carries the body of a child killed in the previous week's tsunami. Photo: TT

Families of victims, tsunami survivors and members from the community will gather in remembrance of the thousands of lives lost that morning, joined by the Swedish royals and the prime minister, who is scheduled to speak.

"The tsunami disaster is a national trauma," the archbishop leading the memorial service, Antje Jackelén, said in a statement. "Memorials are needed to look back, and forward."

For many, looking back certainly evokes sore memories of the Swedish government's seeming failure to appropriately handle the crisis, with former Prime Minister Göran Persson’s cabinet certainly suffering from vehement criticism over the years. It has been accused of mismanagement, at best, and inaction at worst.

Apologies have been issued over time, but ten years later, moving forward may indeed be what Swedes want.

Norhan Elhakeem


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