Hauntings and Natural Disasters

2004 tsunami memorial

Sri Lanka Tsunami Memorial

After writing about the ghosts that reportedly haunt Japan’s tsunami-stricken regions, I began wondering about the sites of other natural disasters. For instance, did paranormal reports spike after the devastating tsunami in 2004 or after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans in 2005? As it turns out, the answer is yes. Here are four recent natural disasters and the ghost tales that followed.

Thailand’s Tsunami Ghosts

On December 26, 2004, a massive undersea quake triggered a series of tsunamis that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries. Over 5,000 of the victims perished in Thailand, and soon after the disaster, survivors began seeing and hearing ghosts.

The paranormal reports from Thailand’s survivors are eerily similar to those in Japan (possessions, disappearing passengers, victims calling for help). However, the Thailand tales have one intriguing difference: the ghosts are nearly all foreign.

On January 14, 2005, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) published “Thai Tsunami Trauma Sparks Foreign Ghost Sightings.” According to the article, survivors in Thailand’s six worst-hit provinces often encountered foreign ghosts near the sea. A guard at a beachfront plaza in Pataong reportedly quit his job after hearing a foreign ghost scream for help late into the night. In another story, a ghostly tourist roamed up and down the beach calling out for her lost child. There’s also the curious tale of a foreign man and his Thai girlfriend who hailed a cab to the airport but disappeared during the drive.

Similar accounts appear in BBC News’ “Ghosts Stalk Tsunami Survivors.” A tuk tuk driver claimed seven tourists piled into his minivan one night only to vanish mid-route. A foreign woman screamed for help from the wreckage of a hotel, but no one could ever find her. Tales of foreign ghosts were so prevalent that monks offered pizza, paper clothes, and money to help the lost spirits move on.

So why did residents of Thailand encounter so many foreign spirits? Psychologist Wanlop Piyamanutham offers this explanation:

“Foreigners make a big impression on Thais,” the doctor told BBC News. “They’re physically imposing, and often seem rich and powerful. If people like that die in terrible circumstances, it’s not surprising they should come back in people’s minds as ghosts, especially when they have so far to get home.”

Hurricane Katrina Ghost

Hurricane Katrina roared over the coast of Louisiana on August 29, 2005, leveling homes and causing a catastrophic levee failure in New Orleans. Over 1,400 people died in the storm, and some say there are victims that have yet to leave The Crescent City.

On September 16, 2005, just 17 days after Katrina, San Francisco’s CBS 5 published “Guardsmen Sense Ghostly Presence in New Orleans.” In the report, members of the National Guard stationed at the evacuated Sophie B. Wright Middle School shared their unnerving experiences with a ghostly child.

“I was in my sleeping bag and I opened my eyes and in the doorway was a little girl,” said Sgt. Robin Hairston of the California National Guard. “It wasn’t my imagination.”

Another guard heard a little girl laughing in a supply closet, but found no one inside when she searched. A third member of the unit saw a small shadow looming over her in the bathroom.

Tornado Victim Ghosts

On May 22, 2011, an F5 tornado struck Joplin, MO and surrounding regions. Over 150 people died, but one family believes some of the victims have yet to move on.

In an episode of Syfy’s Haunted Collector, the Wilson family in Joplin share tales of the paranormal. The family noticed that each time they took a photo of an old mirror in their home, different lines and shapes appeared on the glass. An EVP session conducted during a paranormal investigation also yielded a faint voice and shuffling sounds on the stairwell. The noises came in response to a question about the 2011 tornado. A Joplin author claims that many first responders noticed paranormal activity in their homes after helping tornado victims. The homeowner, Bob Wilson, assisted with the rescue. Did he attract the attention of a ghost?

Last May, another F5 tornado tore through Moore, OK, killing 24 people, including nine children at school. Nine-year-old Nicholas McCabe was one of the kids who died that day, but Scott McCabe, Nicolas’s father, believes his son is still around.

The elder McCabe told an Oklahoma news station that Nicolas appeared in a photo taken on the 4th of July (below). The girl in the photo is Nicolas’s cousin Madison, but the blurred face behind her is Nicolas, or so his family believes.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Scott said. “Nicolas loved the Fourth of July and he loved firecrackers. My brother, when he saw it, he said the hair stood up on his neck.”

ghost picture

Though some people believe the numerous, and often sudden, deaths caused by natural disasters lead to widespread hauntings, Thai psychologist and media commentator Wallop Piyamanotham offers a different explanation:

“This is a type of mass hallucination that is a cue to the trauma being suffered by people who are missing so many dead people, and seeing so many dead people, and only talking about dead people.”

What do you believe?

Have you seen a ghost? Share your story here!