Published: 10-09-2008 00:00 | Updated: 26-11-2013 10:24

New study on tsunami survivors

[PRESS RELEASE, 10 September 2008] People who survived the Indian Ocean tsunami or lost loved ones in the waters went through a complex process of trauma, grief and at best rehabilitation. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Stord/Haugesund University College in Norway are now presenting a study based on deep interviews with victims of the tsunami disaster.

The earthquake off the coast of Sumatra on 26 December 2004, and the resulting tsunami, are estimated to have killed somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million people. The death rate includes 543 Swedish tourists, among them 140 children under the age of 18. The Swedish and Norwegian researchers claim that feedback from disasters, like the tsunami, are essential as they can help to shape future care.

"Healthcare professionals have an important role to play in caring for the victims of major disasters, who have gone through life-changing traumas", says co-author Arne Rehnsfeldt, Professor at Stord/Haugesund University College and research team leader at Karolinska Institutet.

In the study, published in Journal of Advanced Nursing, the research team carried out one-to-one and group interviews with 13 women and six men aged from 24 to 67 years. The Interviews started 21 months after the tsunami and was undertaken a further five times, at eight-week intervals. Twelve of the people they spoke to were on holiday when the tsunami struck. The other seven participants were at home in Sweden. Some lost as many as four family members, including children, in the tragedy.

The emotions expressed by the study participants ranged from the initial pleasure of being on a dream holiday, through to the trauma of the event, their grief and loss and the way that families pulled together to come to terms with what had happened. The researchers found that the experiences of the tsunami survivors and their relatives revealed a comprehensive picture, which can be summarised as experiencing the core of existence, a changed understanding of life and the power of communion.

The researchers found that the survivors and relatives spoke of nine chronological themes:

  • Being in paradise
  • Experiencing the course of events as inconceivable
  • The struggle between existence and destruction
  • The meaning of ministering
  • Experiencing unbearable suffering
  • Searching is a way to handle a dissolved inner life
  • Finding meaning in the midst of meaninglessness.
  • The shackles of powerlessness and grief also chain survivors once home
  • Healing communion gives rest in solitude

"The paper just published looks at the tsunami victims initial reactions to being caught up in this international tragedy", says Arne Rehnsfeldt. "In due course, we will be reporting our longer term findings."

The study was conducted in collaboration with the Swedish Red Cross.


Maj-Britt Råholm, Maria Arman & Arne Rehnsfeldt

The immediate lived experience of the 2004 tsunami disaster by Swedish tourists

Journal of Advanced Nursing, 10 September 2008

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