Petra Nemcova joined the United Nations’ commemoration of the Day for the inaugural World Tsunami Awareness Day on 5 November.

Video: Tsunami survivor Petra Nemcova: Education on natural disasters has power to save lives

“It’s like a concrete building, not water, falling on you,” Petra Nemcova, a 37-year-old fashion model and philanthropist, told the UN News Centre, describing the impact of the Indian Ocean Tsunami on 26 December 2004, which hit her and her partner in a bungalow on a Thai beach.

There was no warning, she said. In seconds, the bungalow completely crashed and there was glass everywhere and they were trying to hold on for dear life. She almost drowned many times, but after holding onto a palm tree for eight hours, she was found by a Thai man who risked his life to save the lives of strangers. Her partner was a strong swimmer but the power of nature was too strong for anyone.

Unfortunately, he was among the roughly 9,000 foreign tourists that perished in the disaster, which left more than 220,000 people dead.

“I’m happy to hear that finally tsunami has a dedicated international day to raise the awareness of the importance of early warning systems, education and preparedness,” she said, stressing that “the power of education is not just to transform lives but the power of education is to really save lives.”

She said that there is usually time to evacuate in the wake of earthquakes. The 2004 tsunami took two hours to strike Thailand. “In two hours, you can save your lives if there is an early warning system and enough education.”

“Time is of the essence here. There is no excuse for countries not to have an early warning system or education,” she said.

Her tragic experience changed her perspective on life.

In 2006, she founded Happy Hearts Fund, whose mission is to rebuild safe, resilient schools in areas impacted by natural disasters.

To read more, click here.

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