Utah survivor remembers massive tsunami 10 years later, plans album

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man who lost his sister in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and barely cheated death himself is now making an album that channels the darkness from the tragedy into songs he hopes will inspire others.

“You can really overcome anything life throws at you — whether it’s as crazy as all the things I’ve been through or it’s just everyday stuff,” Jai Breisch said of the message of the album, which he is currently developing.

Breisch was in Khao Lak, inside a bungalow with his sister, Kali, at the time the tsunami struck.

“She woke me up and was saying, 'Jai, Jai! You’ve got to come look at this! You’ve got to see this!' Breisch recalled. “Out in the distance I saw what looked like a gray background like clouds and I only realized later that it was a wave that was so tall that I couldn’t even see the top of it from where I was standing.”

Breisch immediately turned to run, but was consumed by the 30- to 40-foot wall of water by the time he reached the door.

I was laying on my back in the middle of the jungle, looking up at this bright blue sky and wondering what the heck just happened. There was septic tanks and refrigerators and mattresses and sheets of plywood.

–Jai Breisch

“All of the glass windows shattered and the curtains just flew up right to the ceiling, and I was underwater in an instant,” Breisch said.

Breisch said he believed he was swept about a mile inland in what he now calls the “tsunami soup” — a “washing machine with dirt and glass and bricks and razor blades.”

When the wave subsided, Breisch said he was lost, surrounded by a sea of devastation.

“I was laying on my back in the middle of the jungle, looking up at this bright blue sky and wondering what the heck just happened,” Breisch said. “There was septic tanks and refrigerators and mattresses and sheets of plywood.”

Breisch already had a broken neck from a car accident that happened a couple months prior to the tsunami. His collarbone was permanently dislocated during the disaster, and he had numerous lacerations.

Miraculously, he was able to walk for help. His sister’s remains weren’t identified for a month after the tsunami.

“I know of about two or three other people on that beach who survived, while 4,000 others didn’t,” he said. “(Kali) saved my life and unfortunately lost her own in the process.”

Breisch, who was already an aspiring singer prior to the tsunami, started retracing his songs on an old notepad given to him following the disaster.

He said he intends to release a full EP, “After the Wave,” with songs that touch on the struggles that ensued in the years after the tsunami.

“I know that’s what my sister would have wanted me to do, and I know that I was meant for more than just being stuck in that place where I was,” Breisch said. “It’s really about the drive that living through all that put into me, and how that made me want to create better things and better music.”

Breisch is currently in the process of raising as much as $12,000 through Kickstarter to make the album. He considers his style an upbeat pop-rock, “danceable” blend in the styles of Bruno Mars, Coldplay and Jason Mraz.

“I would hope that people take the message of hope and survivorship out of my music,” Breisch said, “being able to take those things and trying to see the light in all those dark, dark things that happen to us.”


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Andrew Adams


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