What were the most iconic images of Asian Tsunami of December 2004?

Every major disaster produces its own iconic images which determine how the collective memory of the world would remember the incident.

In a blog post to mark the sixth anniversary, I quoted photojournalist Shahidul Alam as saying: “The immediacy of an iconic image, its ability to engage with the viewer, its intimacy, the universality of its language, means it is at once a language of the masses, but also the key that can open doors. For both the gatekeepers and the public, the image has a visceral quality that is both raw and delicate. It can move people to laughter and to tears and can touch people at many levels. The iconic image lingers, long after the moment has gone. We are the witnesses of our times and the historians of our ages. We are the collective memories of our communities.”

Looking back six years later, which of the numerous images of the Asian Tsunami of 26 December 2004 have achieved that iconic status? It was one of the most widely photographed disasters of our time — but which handful of images do we remember now, more than 2,000 days later?

One image that lingers, for its frozen horror and tragedy, is this one taken by Reuters photojournalist Arko Datta in Tamil Nadu, southern India. It later won him the World Press Photo and other international awards.

An Indian woman mourns the death of a relative killed in the Asian tsunami. The picture was taken in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, on 28 December 2004 (REUTERS, Arko Datta)

For a mega-disaster that was distributed over a very large area along the Indian Ocean rim, covering a dozen countries in South and Southeast Asia, there must be more iconic images — either globally or nationally. What image/s do YOU remember the December 2004 Tsunami by?

It doesn’t matter if they the image was taken by a professional photographer (i.e. one who is paid to do that job) or a holiday maker or a local resident…as long as it was widely shared and has entered our collective consciousness. Please nominate your images with links, which we will display here.

This photo is a fake!

Note: Beware of fake tsunami images that are in circulation, which some people are peddling either knowingly or unknowingly. One of them — allegedly the waves hitting Phuket in Thailand — is exposed at Urban Legends as digitally imagined fantasy. Another set of images is real enough — but have nothing to do with the tsunami. These show people running away from an oncoming burst of water, seemingly a big wave. They are of a TIDAL BORE, not a tsunami, taken in October 2002 at the Qiantang Jian River in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China — an area known for tidal bores.

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4 Responses to “What were the most iconic images of Asian Tsunami of December 2004?”

  1. Claire Says:

    That IS a powerful image indeed.
    Thanks for sharing

  2. Curious Says:


    I have seen this image in many places and believe it is from thailand. but can someone confirm it is authentic and exactly where this was taken?

  3. Sandra Says:

    What is the big point in reviving and reliving these horrible memories? Lets just forget about the whole thinbg.

  4. agaaz26 Says:

    This happened where i live (India) when I was 4 years old. Thanks Nalaka Gunawardene sir this helped me a lot in my project


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