THE scale of the tragedy was almost impossible to take in. Around the world, people watched in horror as the death toll from a tsunami in the Indian Ocean mounted by tens of thousands at a time.
Official estimates of the dead from the tragedy on Boxing Day five years ago would reach at least 230,000.
The tsunami was caused by an earthquake of between 9.1 and 9.3, which caused the seabed to rise suddenly by several metres.
That led to massive volumes of water being displaced along the coasts of the Indian Ocean.
Bournemouth holiday-makers Andrew and Louise Oliver witnessed the impact of the tsunami in Thailand.
They had been due to go diving off Phuket but had to cancel because the boat was full.
They were in another boat when the tide suddenly went out by around 200ft, leaving divers and snorkelers lying on an empty sea bed.
Andrew said shortly afterwards: “With that, the tide suddenly started swelling up behind them and continued rolling in, over the beach, over the restaurants and houses.”
Bournemouth couple Roy and Sybil Bray told the Daily Echo how they endured “the worst 30 hours of their lives” awaiting news of their son Barry, 21, who was back-packing around Thailand.
After making contact by email, Barry said: “The devastation out here is hard to comprehend and no amount of media coverage can ever do it justice.”
For many, the news was bad.
West Parley couple Peter and Doreen Jackson lost their 25-year-old daughter Clare, who had become separated from her boyfriend as the tsunami struck.
Clare’s family later set up a charity fund which raised £27,000 in her memory for Tansalle Hospital in Sri Lanka.
It was one of the many appeals which raised large amounts of money to pay for aid and reconstruction.
In Bournemouth and Poole, the casts of the 2004 pantos joined forces to put on two charity shows in one day in aid of the humanitarian appeal.
Some were in four performances that day, adding the morning and late night fundraisers to their two scheduled performances.
Daily Echo readers, responding directly to an appeal in the paper, had raised £34,332 by January 5 – making it the most successful appeal for Unicef of any newspaper in the south-west.
In Studland, an astonishing community effort for Sri Lanka was soon under way.
Studland resident Lady Kate Cotton was inspired by her brother David Ralths, a surgeon who was also an examiner of surgeons in Sri Lanka.
Alarmed by stories of aid money being diverted by local governments, Lady Kate and some friends decided to organise a twinning effort with Pitiwella – a village which had been the same size as Studland.
“There were a group of us in Studland who felt we were 500 souls and they had been 500 and were now 250,” she says.
“We put a note in everybody’s letterbox and we had 37 people come to the church hall for the first meeting and after that it turned into a hardcore of about half a dozen of us, wonderfully supported for all our events by the villagers.”
The distinguished presence of Lady Kate and her husband, the late Sir Bill Cotton, former light entertainment head at the BBC, helped drum up attendance at Scrabble nights, barn dances and coffee mornings, raising around £41,000 in five years.
“We set ourselves to do five years which we’ve now done,” says Lady Kate.
The money has helped local people back into work, providing them with tools and sewing machines. “I think the really nice thing about it is that early on, the village felt they had been so incredibly lucky that they said would we mind if they shared with the village next door,” she added.
For the bereaved, and for those who narrowly avoided a family tragedy, the anniversary of the tsunami remains difficult.
Ann Oliver of Wimborne recalls the Boxing Day she awoke to see the disaster unfolding on Sky News, and the anxious wait for news of son Andrew and wife Louise.
“At this time of year, I always think about what could have happened if they had been on a different part of the island,” she says.
“I thank God every year around this time that they survived, but I am really sorry for those who did not make it.
“I am desperately sad for those who have lost someone and feel guilty that I should be grateful.”