Friday, December 31, 2004


One of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITES of real time – live – blogs comes from Evelyn Rodriquez. She is currently in Thailand – and was smack in the middle of the disaster. This articulate and wonderful writer talks each day about what it is really like to be at ground zero…

“… villagers are still terrified. When what was a tranquil sea swallows up people, homes and long-tail boats mercilessly without warning and no one can tell you anything reliable about whether another one is coming, I'm not sure you'd want to come down either. One of the scariest things about the tsunami that I've not seen mentioned is the complete lack of information. This may seem minor, but it is terrifying to hear rumor after rumor after rumor (oft stated as "reliable" information) that another tidal wave "bigger than the last" will be coming at exactly 1 p.m. or perhaps tonight or perhaps... “

READ MORE AT: Evelyn Rodriguez and CrossRoads

FIRST HAND STORY: G. Balan swimming through crocodiles

If it wasn’t already bad enough trying to flee the waves – image having to fight crocodiles and a phython. Welcome to India.

For G. Balan, a gut-wrenching obstacle stood between his tsunami-devastated village and possible safety: a lagoon teeming with crocodiles.

Lucky for him and others who managed to swim across, the crocs were too busy feeding on the corpses of humans and animals to take any notice.

"We realized that there was certain death on this side, so we decided to cross and take the risk. It was hide-and-seek, but we swam across," Balan said Friday after being flown to Port Blair, territorial capital of India's remote Andaman and Nicobar island chain.

His ordeal on Campbell Island started with the shaking of a teacup Sunday morning. Then the sea seemed to explode.

"You want to imagine the waves? Look at this huge coconut tree," Balan said, gesturing toward a tree at the refugee camp. "There was a coconut tree like this next to my house. The water went over it. That high."

He said people screamed and prayed as they ran from the surging sea. Balan fled with his wife and others to a hilltop. They had no food.

A group of youths went into the forest to find streams and bring back water in plastic cans swept inland by the waves. Balan led others to a wrecked government compound where they stole rice that they boiled and ate.

The next day the survivors walked to a nearby harbor and a rescue boat came. When the boat was full, Balan and the others headed off toward the next harbor, 11 miles away.

In their path was the crocodile lagoon.

"If they had seen me, they would have caught me by the stomach. They catch the soft part of the body and drag you away," Balan said.

The encounter with crocodiles wasn't the only brush with wildlife on the island chain. Another refugee, building contractor Raj Ratnam, said he was swept up to the top of a tree and clung to it for three days -- with a giant python twirled around the trunk for company.

As reported in the Detroit Free Press by Free Press news services on January 1, 2005

FIRST HAND STORY: Patrick Green and Becky Johnson

Someone had to be in at least one elevator when the wave struck. These were the unlucky ones.

“the elevator thrust downward and the doors burst open, revealing a raging river inside the hotel. Dirty water, waist-deep and rising, gushed into the elevator…”

FIRST HAND STORY: Patrick Green and Becky Johnson
For Patrick Green, the terrifying wave came in a trickle.

He and friend Becky Johnson were in a hotel elevator, on their way to the beach, where they planned to get one last hour of Thai sun before heading to the airport.

Outside, a tsunami had crushed the shore, but in the elevator, the only sign that something was wrong came when the lights flickered and water began seeping through the doors. "Inhuman, indescribable" screams then pierced the walls, he recalled Friday.

The cause was revealed when the elevator thrust downward and the doors burst open, revealing a raging river inside the hotel. Dirty water, waist-deep and rising, gushed into the elevator. He and Johnson swam to a door. Outside, people, cars, tables and trees floated by.

They kept swimming and found the structure that would save them: a jungle gym in a nearby play area. They pulled a few other people onto it, including a woman who clung fiercely to her baby as she looked for her 5-year-old boy. They were later reunited.

Green and Johnson are among thousands of Americans caught in the tsunami devastation -- and among the many who have been recounting their ordeals in interviews and in e-mails home this week. Fourteen Americans are confirmed dead in the disaster.

After the water calmed, Green and Johnson swam 150 yards to the hotel's main entrance. They took stairs to the building's roof, where they spent the rest of the day taking pictures and listening to shrieks warning of more waves that never came.

"It was ugly and awful. There are some images I will never forget, and some that I might never acknowledge again," Green said. "I am left with an immense respect for the power of nature."
Green and Johnson, both 28 and Pacific Northwest natives, are friends and first-year teachers at Singapore American School.

As reported on January 1, 2005 , BY JANIE McCAULEY, ASSOCIATED PRESS, appearing in the Detroit Free Press at:

Thursday, December 30, 2004


If you are just arriving here for the first time, I recommend that you start at the bottom - and read UPWARDS. The first entry tells you the story of the experience from the beginning. - Rick Von Feldt

FIRST HAND STORY: Luke Simmonds (A miraculous save and rescue!)

Luke Simmonds from London, England describes what happens to he and his friend as he was out sailing when the tsunami hits. He was miraculously washed forward on to the beach - and then went on to help aid hurt people, including a small child. Read his account - his tragedy - and the heartache he continues to have!

Sehen Sie viel mehr Überlebendgeschichten einschließlich Fotos und Verbindungen zu den tsunami videos an: TSUNAMI SURVIVOR STORIES

On January 3 - Luke sent me a letter he sent to friends. Part of his story was also covered in the SOUTH AFRICA SUNDAY TIMES

I arrived in Thailand on the 20th and spent 3 days in Phuket on Kata Beach with a Swedish girlfriend and her family. They had planned their trip for months. I decided very last minute to join them before going onto meet Danish friends in Koh Phi Phi, and finally onto Bangkok with friends from Hong Kong for New Year. I moved onto Phi Phi on the 24th and celebrated Christmas with 3 of my Danish friends - Lars and his girlfriend Rine , and Jesper. On the evening of the 25th , I was exhausted so didn't join them for dinner and went to bed at around 9pm. This is important as anyone who knows me , will know that I tend to sleep late ! But given a long nights rest , I was up early and had breakfast with Lars & Rine.

At about 10:30 we went to the beach. Lars and I planned to go sailing , but there was no wind so we opted for water skiing. We waited for the boat and noted the wind was picking up so we would sail afterwards. First Lars skied and then it was my turn. At the moment i got into the water the lagoon started to drain out - in particular on the far right hand side of the bay ( as you look out to sea). Within seconds it was too shallow to ski, so i climbed back into the boat. Lars, I and the driver sat there just watching the water drain away without any comprehension of what was to happen next. At first we saw a couple on a Kayak struggling in the current - they were being sucked out to sea. But then almost immediately they were on the top of a small wave kayaking into the beach at some speed. We were excited by the site and just imagined they were having some fun. Of course we could not know of the huge volume of water that was underneath them , that once it reached the shallow water would simply rise up into a huge wave. That is basically what happened next.

We were in the ski boat facing towards the shore, when the water passing underneath us began to pull the boat around and towards the shore. Almost out of nowhere there was a huge wall of water, behind us at the beach. We were at the bottom of a 10 meter wave that stretched the entire length of the beach, maybe 1km. I said to Lars that we were in trouble - at this moment it didn't even dawn on me that the wave would pass through the island causing the destruction that it did. I screamed at the driver to get us out to sea, but even at full power , the boat just got sucked to the bottom of the wave. The wave collapsed on the top of the boat. I remember covering my head and rolling into a ball. Underwater I just kept on thinking " please don't get hit by something ". I came to the surface , breathed, and then was pulled under again. I like to think that all of the diving I have done helped me - I knew not to fight the current and to wait as long as I could before reacting. The truth is , I was just lucky. I came to the surface , grabbed some more air, and then saw a huge wave coming at me. I could see that it wasn't about to break where I was so i took a breath and dived through it, coming up the other side. I grabbed some wood to hang onto, but then saw a life jacket ( presumably from our boat ) floating 10 meters away. I swam like crazy for it - in my head I knew it was the best thing to do. I got it on and instantly felt safe - i was afloat in the sea and things didn't look that bad for me. I knew I was safe from drowning I just had to wait for help. I looked for Lars, saw our driver first, and then Lars about 150 meters away, he looked unhurt, but even from that distance I could see his face had taken on a different aspect. I have thought about this since and have decided that it was survival.

We were all then pushed inland , over what I now know was the Cabana Hotel pool where so many people had been when the wave struck. I saw the water flooding into open spaces and it was here that I got very frightened. Water was rushing into fill any empty voids and I could see that I was likely to go wherever the water went. I smashed into the first floor balcony of the hotel and was hanging on with my body being pulled under. It was too strong. I took a breath and then was pulled under the hotel through the ground floor pool side balconies. I am sure i survived due to the life jacket , as it was always trying to get me to the surface. I think I came up around the corner of the hotel and drifted a little way to the back of the Hotel before swimming to a tree and climbing up.

About 3 or 4 minutes later the water subsided. I climbed down and almost immediately saw Lars and the driver , they were both fine. Then the screaming started. People calling for their loved ones. At first a guy looking for his daughters , Fredericke and Isabella. I asked him where they had been ( in the pool ) and then I explained how far I had travelled and that we needed to spread out and walk away from the Hotel. Everywhere was devastation. The small wooden bungalows were ripped open. We called their names, we never found them. Then 2 French girls stuck up a tree asked me to help them down. I now know from Lars that he had a similar experience. Whilst looking for Fredericke and Isabella he found 2 Thai girls stuck in a basement room, filling up with water. He helped them out as the water was rushing in to fill the space they occupied. On a lighter side, I understand one of the girls didn't want to come out as all of her clothes had been pulled from her body - Lars didn't give her a choice !

At the Cabana Hotel we started to make a hospital area. Some people came on their own, others we heard screaming and we went to them. Another English guy, called CC ( spelling ? ) was a psychiatrist, and so we kind of appointed him in charge. The first girl we collected from the rubble was an English girl called Sally. She was covered in the most severe cuts i have ever seen. Imagine those documentaries about liposuction, etc..... it was like that. Gaping holes with grotesque cuts in the flesh, to the bone. She had at least 7 lacerations over her legs and tummy. We saw wounds like this throughout the day caused by the debris in the water. The bungalows often had their roofs made of corrugated iron, which travelling through the water at 40 KPH clearly just tore through bodies. We kicked down a door to use as a stretcher and carried her to the first floor. She was the first , and then they just kept coming. A Japanese husband and wife. The wife had lost half of her throat. We simply held her neck together. A Swedish women whose head was cleaved open - we tied her head together. A Japanese girl whose leg was so badly broken , we decided that we had to put it straight. I held her hand, and kissed her, whilst crying with her, as 3 guys pulled her leg straight. It took 3 or 4 minutes of the most unbelievable pain for this girl. She was amazing. I am still trying to find her. I know it was the stress of the situation but somehow there was a very special connection between us. Afterwards we all prayed for the rest of her group. She was missing 16 people ! I have since contacted some Japanese newspapers as I feel that I will find it hard to put this behind me until I know what happened to her. I would get on a flight to Japan in an instant if I knew that I could see her again. Then there was an Israeli boy , travelling on his own, I think called Tommy. He had a major cut by his armpit and was petrified that he would lose his arm. I cleaned out his wound whilst trying to give reassurance. I'm pretty sure he would be OK as he was able to move everything - It just looked so horrible. Whilst we were helping someone , often you would hear , " Doctor , please come and help my friend." I didn't know whether to explain that I wasn't a Doctor or not. 9 times out of 10 , I said I wasn't, but still people were desperate for help.

I think it was about 12:30 now and around this time the first reports of more waves came. They never did, but the effect was to cause even more panic. Around this time I met another amazing person. Michelle walked over and asked if she could help. You need to understand we had very little. We were sending people off to the rooms ( if they were prepared to leave the relative shelter of high ground ) to get water from the mini bars, cleans sheets , and the sewing kits ( we thought we might have to sew up some of the wounds... fortunately we did not ). I looked at Michelle and could tell she was holding back. I said we needed help , but how was she and who was she with ? Her husband was missing , he'd been swimming. We cried , but then she just said, " right, lets help these people".... unbelievable ! An hour later, her husband Marvin walked in , unhurt !!!! I cannot describe to you that moment , it was pure joy.

At around 14:00 we heard that a boat was coming in. CC and I spoke and where concerned that people would panic and rush for the boat. He pointed out we would have to restrain people. I made an announcement about what was happening and said that only the most injured would be allowed to leave and that CC would decide who they were.... i think we all knew who had to go. The boat came in and we carried about 20 people down to the boat on doors, deck chairs, etc. We took Sally, the 3 Japanese, a number of Swedish and Thai people..... i think it was about 20 people in total that went on that first boat.

After that I tried to make it over to my Hotel to find my friends. Lars and I had got separated and I hadn't seen him since the water first subsided. It was impossible to cross the island and it was in this journey that I started to see how bad the destruction was. In the 200 meters i travelled I saw at least 20 dead bodies. I gave up and went back to the Cabana Hotel. Time went by and as more warnings of waves came in , people left to goto higher ground ... up the mountain. A number of people stayed and were debating the risks. To get to the mountain was probably 30 minutes across flat ground of total destruction. If a wave came and you were out there, you were dead. Simple as that. At about 4pm a guy came in with a walkie talkie and confirmed that another bigger wave was coming and that we were not high enough. This wave never came, but again the damage was done. Those that could walk left. I decided it was time i had to go too.

As I was leaving a S.African family , mother, grandmother, aunt and little girl were making their way very slowly. They all had cuts to the legs. As I understand it, the little girl had drowned but they had given CPR and brought her back to life , but she was unresponsive. I said to the mother I would take her and go. I am not sure if she really understood. She passed me the little girl, and I went. I was very frightened. I did not look back. This has given me some nightmares. I got to the mountain and it was impossible to get up whilst holding a little unconscious 6 year old. An English guy helped me ( his name may have been Adam and his girlfriend Emma ) , and we only got up about 15 meters. I sat there with her in my arms trying to feed her 'sugar water' for about 2 hours. Eventually I decided she would not make it unless she got to a hospital. I climbed back down the mountain , which I could not have done without the help of an American guy called Larry and crossed the island ( unbelievably scary , fear of another wave ) , got to the beach where there was a boat with about 100 people trying to board from 1 plank. The Thai's saw me with this little girl and just hoisted me aboard. Going out to sea was one of the most bizarre moments. The harbour was full of debris and dead bodies. Very silent. Everyone frightened of another wave.

At sea , we boarded a bigger boat and waited for other boats to join us. I still held the little girl in my arms. Her name I thought was Shania ( she had whispered it in a moment of consciousness ) , I later found out it was Chane. We arrived at Phuket town at approx 22:30 and were the first into an ambulance , with 2 other English guys I met on the boat - Jimbo (21 ) and Mark (32 ). We went to the Mission Hospital and got the little girl into intensive Care - I had not put her down for 8 hours. I now have some understanding of what it must mean to be a parent and I look forward to that day for me. Later though, we had to move to the Government hospital to get a brain scan. All ok, so back to Mission hospital. Throughout the night I tried to find relatives of the little girl. I called S.African embassy ( shut ) so left a message of who i was, where i was , and who i had. Spoke to British embassy and repeated the story. In intensive care there were 2 other Europeans - Angelika from Austria, and Antonio from Portugal. Antonio's girlfriend Anna was there , unhurt, so we talked a lot. She helped me. I felt very responsible for the little girl and was suffering some guilt at taking her from the Mother. I kept on thinking about how the Mother must be feeling, not knowing where and how her little girl was.

Later on I noticed the Austrian women ( who I would find out was called Angelika Thomes ) looking in my direction. I went over to speak to her. " How are you , are you ok ?" She just burst into tears - she had lost her husband and 15 year old son. I told her that I would go and phone the Austrian embassy and give them her details. The next day we heard that both her husband and son were alive and well ! Such happiness. During the night I called Angelika's friend in Austria ( Karin ) and told her what was going on, who I was and where we were. An hour later a call was passed to me " Doctor Luke , this is Angelika's Doctor in Austria " !!!!!! This happened on a number of occasions, people mistaking you for a Doctor. I must say this was quite surreal. Especially as I was wearing a pair of ripped shorts from the day before. Her Doctor and I spoke and he was just happy to be able to talk to someone properly in English. I love the Thai people, they are simply one of the , if not THE, kindest races out there, but in our hospital language was a problem. In the intensive care unit not one of the nurses spoke English. Often I would go down to the administration department to talk to the staff there who were excellent and were really trying to help, but it was chaos at the hospitals. Perhaps worse was the lists - names were spelt wrong, nationalities wrong,etc. All this made it more complicated to find people.

I slept a few hours at the hospital and about 6am the little girl Chane opened her eyes. We played a game of trying to spell out her surname. I held up letters in front of her and she nodded or pointed at them. Her surname was PANAINO. I ran ( hobbled ) downstairs to phone the embassy. I kind of broke down at this point for a little while. I had been desperate to find her parents, but with no name ,and her not talking it seemed an impossible task. Now it seemed just a matter of time. At this point I still hadn't spoken to anyone from home or any of my friends. Losing your mobile phone cuts you off from the world. How many numbers do you know ? I didn't know many and was too tired to concentrate. I was leaving messages at home , my Brothers mobile, even tried the office. But hadn't spoken to anyone. I called my own mobile and heard messages of people calling in. Most importantly I heard that Anneli ( my Swedish girlfriend ) and her family were fine. However, the desperation in her voice was clear. She wanted me to call her but didn't leave her number ! I tried to call her Hotel but the lines were down, so no way to tell her I was ok. I then realised that if i could get my messages I could re-record my own message. So I called back and did this. Unfortunately it did not save the message, so it wasn't until i called back 6 hours later that I realised this. I recorded a new message which I think many of you heard.

At about 9am I walked through the hospital reception and heard my name shouted. Corny i know, but of all the hospitals in all the towns, there was Lars and his girlfriend Rine !!! Both of them well , cuts & bruises. No sign of Jesper and today as I write this almost a week later we still have no news. I think we accept that he has gone, but just hope he did not suffer and that we can find his body. We left the Hospital to goto the Pearl Hotel where all the Scandinavians were being moved to. I stayed with them a little while but felt disconnected and isolated. I wanted to be around British people and I wanted to go back to the Hospital to find out how Chane was, so i left.

I have spoken to Lars about what happened to Jesper and this is all we know : Jesper was on the beach with Rine when they saw the wave coming. At first they gathered up some of our belongings and then started to run through the Hotel bungalows that we had been staying at - Phi Phi Charlie. Running in flip flops is hard. Jesper fell over and Rine fell on top of him. They got up, left everything and carried on running. They were separated. Rine was trying to get up some stairs when the water came. She was hanging onto the top step, with water up to her neck, when two Thai guys pulled her up to safety. She did not see what happened to Jesper.

Back at the hospital , at about 11am, a nurse came in holding a mobile phone which she shoved next to the ear of Chane.... it was Daddy !!! Chane could not talk, i took the phone. It was not her Dad, but her Uncle Anton. I told him who I was and where we were. He arrived 30 minutes later and collapsed into my arms. Actually I collapsed into his too. We just cried and hugged. He had spoken to the Auntie and knew who I was. The mother and Grand mother were all fine just miles away. I explained the story and how guilty i felt for taking her. He was brilliant and just thanked me for saving her life and told me that the mother was so grateful. Since getting back to the UK, I have called the hospital , the mother was there, we spoke, it was great ... nothing else to be said !

I think around 14:00 i had this sense that it was time for me to leave. There was no-one else left who I was connected with that hadn't met their family / friends, yet I was on my own and still hadn't spoken to anyone. I went to the City Hall to get papers but gave up after an hour when someone said, just get upto Bangkok and sort it out there - a Thai guy gave me the shoes he was wearing , a t-shirt from someone else. I went to Phuket airport and waited 5 hours before getting on free flight from Thai Airways. At the airport I met the 2 French girls I had got down from the tree 36 hours earlier !!! I became part of their extended family as they had been 'adopted' by a French guy , Bernard , and his wife and Kids. At Bangkok, within 30 minutes I had a piece of paper to admit me to the UK, and within 1 hour I was on the BA flight that had come from Sydney, First Class. I lost the plot here. For about an hour I was in 'shock'. I could not stop shaking and crying, I think the plane represented home. The staff were great and I really must contact BA to let them know that the crew on that flight helped me significantly.

Home, my Brother , the Press, guilt. I am safe , unhurt and I was out so quickly. Every day I think about what happened and whether I could have done more. I have a strong urge to go back, but think that first I will have to goto Denmark to be with my friends there to deal with the loss of Jesper. I sleep , but wake up very early. I am glued to the TV. I have contacted the press, as some of you will have seen. I want to know what happened to the people we helped. Last night Sally's Mum called. She is recovering in Bangkok hospital. Another amazing call from a Mum who was frightened for her daughter. She knows the extent of Sally's injuries, but she is alive and will recover. I hope to go and see them in Jersey when they are ready.

I am now just looking for the Japanese girl. I have sent an email to some of the papers out there and hope that someone will pick up on the story - I hope so.

I lost everything out there. The only thing I came back with were the shorts I was wearing and lots of paper with names , telephone numbers, messages to give to family and friends. I know that I am very lucky to be alive. We must do everything we can to help those that have not been so lucky. I urge you to go and make a financial donation - if you have done it already , do it again. I am trying to get a passport so I can goto Denmark, but it seems that it may take some days. I will come to the office and already I have read all of your mails. Please forgive me If I have not written back yet, I hope that this 'story' will answer your questions. I cannot wait to see you all soon.

See 15 more suvivor stories - including what happened in the first 15 minutes of the waves. See 27 photos of the beach just after it hit. See more suvivor stories at:

Bericht 15 weitere Überlebendgeschichten. Wiederholen Sie die ersten 15 Minuten der Wellen. Wiederholen Sie 27 Fotos des Strandes gleich nachdem der tsunami Erfolg:


PHOTOS: I have posted 27 photos online

The day after the tsunami hit Phuket - I took 27 photos from the Patong beach area. You can see them at this address:


Instructions: Click HERE.

FIRST HAND ACCOUNT: Julie and Casy Sobolewski (helped to save 50 people!)

Julie Sobolewski and her son Casey from San Diego were in Phuket Thailand sailing. Fox News host from the show “On the Record” interviewed Julie via phone about her experience. (this transcript was edited from the online phone interview on December 29).

“…40 people floating in the water, ages 4 to 30. And all the locals were yelling children and pointing at the children, you know, and that was my first goal or task, if you would, was to get as many of these kids into my boat and onto our sailboat…”
HOST: Our next guests were sailing off the island of Phuket (search) in Thailand when the tsunami (search) struck Sunday. Julie Sobolewski and her son, Casey, join us from San Diego.

HOST OF ON FOX ON THE RECORD: Julie, you two were sailing with a friend. Tell us how far you were off shore and what you saw when the tsunami hit.

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: We had just left a little island where we'd had breakfast that morning. We were about a half a mile from shore and about a half a mile from the next small, little island that we were heading to snorkel when a huge wave came and took out the sandbar that we were heading towards.

HOST : And Casey, after the wave struck, many of the smaller wooden boats around you broke apart, but not yours. So you guys started helping stranded people. Explain to us how you rescued them and what they were saying as you were.

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Well, as we were coming up to the event, you know, there was all these long-tail boats, you know, full of tourists and Thai locals. And when the wave came and shattered the boats, we were close enough that I was able to rush into a dingy that we were pulling behind our sailboat and rushed out and started pulling in the people. And it seemed like, you know, there were probably about 40 people floating in the water, ages 4 to 30. And all the locals were yelling children and pointing at the children, you know, and that was my first goal or task, if you would, was to get as many of these kids into my boat and onto our sailboat.

HOST: So your strategy was to first save the children, then you went for the adults. Was everyone hysterical? Were people calm? What were they saying?

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI: Kids were screaming. All the women were crying. When I pulled the people into my boat, all the women and the children were just holding onto me. It was very emotional. It was very emotional.

HOST: I can imagine. Julie, by pulling people out of the water, you and Casey and your friend, did you fear that you were putting your own lives in danger?

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI: Not at the time. We were just really busy finding people and getting them on the boat and figuring out what to do next and continued searching the area. Really didn't take time to be afraid.

HOST: Yes. Did you see examples of those heart-breaking stories that we're hearing about, about loved ones and couples being together, and in an instant, in the blink of an eye, being separated and not being able to find each other again?

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI: Not so much. When all of these people were in the water and there was another big wave coming, it was apparent that if we didn't get them on our boat and the second wave hit them, that they would be separated and separated from the items that were keeping them afloat. So we were concentrating on getting everyone we could see into the boat.

HOST: And Casey, how many people do you estimate that you guys rescued?

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI: I would say 50 people. If we didn't pull them out of the water, we rescued them from stranded rocks that they had been slipped away to.

HOST: That's incredible. In some ways, do you think that it might have been safer out at sea than on shore when the tsunami hit?

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI: It was definitely safer in deep water. You know, another mile out past this island, the water gets to about 23 meters deep. Where we were at, it was two, three meters deep. So when the tsunamis came and hit the reef and the shore, that's what caused the waves and that's where the devastation actually came from.

HOST: Julie, you say that you saw a couple of other sailboats in the area, but that they didn't stop to help those people stranded. I imagine they were too terrified?

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI: I'm not sure if they knew what to do. We were hearing a lot of rumors about another big one coming, one coming at two o'clock, and then at three o'clock, we heard one's coming at five o'clock. And we didn't know what to do or where to go, and the other boats didn't, either.

HOST: OK. So tell us how you got back into shore, and then the scene that you saw once you were back in shore.

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI: Well, we were trying to find a couple that we had met earlier and get some information from them on what to do next. And so Casey stayed in the big boat and deep water, and John took the dingy and took me ashore, back to where we'd had breakfast that morning. And there was just devastation. The restaurants were completely obliterated, and there were boats thrown all the way up on shore, and just massive destruction and eerily few people around.

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI: The Internet cafe that I had spent the morning at, talking on instant message with my girlfriend and my best friend, was gone. If we hadn't been on that, spent 15 minutes talking to them, we would have been in the trouble area, and who knows if we would have been around.

HOST: And you're talking to us tonight from California. You're back at home. How did you get home so quickly? And what are your thoughts, now that you're safe at home?

CASEY SOBOLEWSKI: As soon as we got back to Phuket, to actual shore, you know, the first thing we wanted to do was go home. And we called China Airlines, and they were more than helpful in getting us home right away. And our main concerns and thoughts is we just wanted to get home and tell everybody that we know that we're safe and we love them and we're very grateful.

HOST: And Julie, you, too? You must be terribly relieved to be home.

JULIE SOBOLEWSKI: It's interesting. When we got to shore, we had no idea at the time the extent of what was going on, and we didn't even know that the United States had heard anything of what was happening. And so when we called our parents and found out what they'd gone through that day, sitting there watching this news all day, not knowing where we were, I think it was harder on them than it was on us. So it's a great relief to let them know that we're safe.

Read more at:


SURVIVING THE TSUNAMI - Part 10 "And there are no dogs"

SURVIVING A TSUNAMI – Part 10 – “And there are no dogs”

Thursday, December 30, 2004

It is Thursday morning here in Asia.

As the sunrises all over Asia – mornings are unpleasant. In the days before the waves, eager earlybirds would rise to take their morning stroll along the beach. The sun would be rising and the air still cool. The souvineer sellers would not have made their ways to the beach to try to sell you things – and so you could stroll along and glaze sleepily out to see – wondering about the countries on the other side of the ocean. What were the waking to in India. Sri Lanka. Indonesia. Maldives.

But now – every place – every beach across that water is the same. And it is not good.

Each morning is a clean up process. In the night, what water washes up its collection. And instead of tangled seaweed or shells – it is bodies. And debris. Going for a stroll now brings anxiety – and images of bloated blue or green bodies that no one wants to see.

Each morning not only brings debris of the ocean – but also a debris of memory. A million people across Asia go to bed each night – not believing what has just happened to them. With the death toll nearing the 100,000 mark, everyone seems to know of someone who is missing or who has died.

Who feels it the worst? Is it even fair to ask? Is it the spouse who woke that morning and took it for granted that they would go to bed together again in the night? Is it the parents who trusted that their kids would be ok away from home – living far away on a beach resort? Or could it be the parents of all the children. So many parents grieve here in Asia – recounting the horrible thing that happened. “I tried to grab on to my children. I held them as tight as I could, but the water was just so strong. I had to use one arm to try to grab on to something – and then the water just took my baby away….it just took her way.”


These days – I ask myself, “Rick – why are you even writing about this? You didn’t really suffer. You saw the whole thing. You felt the emotion. You listened. And sure – you were scared – but for you – life goes on. Why do you have a write to act as this affected you?”

I don’t know if I have a right. But for me – writing is a way of telling what is flashing in my mind.

It is like the debris that is washed up on the beach. As I try to go about my days here in Singapore – a new thought will “wash up” in my mind. It will lay on my beach until I pick it up and do something with it. And so the writing helps me to record it – wrap it up – and lay it away with the rest.

And each morning – when I wake, there are so many little things that I am reminded of. Things that were small items in the moment – but like the bodies that wash up on the beach – they lie there, waiting to be taken away.


This was my fourth time to Phuket. Thailand is a favorite place to go – and so each year, during my last five years of living in Asia, I would either manage to get their for a business meeting or a long weekend holiday.

One of the memories I had of Phuket were all the dogs. In many of the beach resorts, there are a lot of stray dogs. They run around in packs. The Thai people have a friendliness to animals – and would never consider “erasing” the population. As long as the dogs are harmless – what would it matter if they ran around.

Each morning – you could see packs of dogs playing down on the beach. They would run around chasing each other – playing doggy versions of tag and king on the hill. In the morning, they would run along the beach road, looking for scraps of food or handouts from willing tourists. Many looked the same – a kind of mongrel breed that over times, looks like a mix between many medium size dogs.

But now – there are no more dogs. Each morning, with the bodies of people also come bodies of dogs. As they clean up the destruction, and bring out body bags of people – they also bring out dogs. They are placed in plastic bags, and thrown in to special vehicles. They can’t exactly haul them away with the garbage, as the rotting flesh will also cause disease. But they also don’t have a morgue the mongrels.

On the morning of the wave, most likely were able to keep their heads about the water when the first swell came in. Dogs have a way of being able to swim. But when the second, more churning wave came, they also would have been trashed about – and eventually all dragged back in to the ocean.

So many people talk about this “dragged back” feeling. Again, most of the two hundred people in Phuket (plus hundreds more who are missing) who have been found dead so far, have washed up on the beach. Most survived the first moments, when the water was coming in. But with 15 feet of water – and such a strong current, when the waves each time receeded, they retreated with such strong force that everything that was not tied down was sucked back with them. Many people talking of having their friend or lover or child pulled out of their hands and taken away for ever.

Despite the clean up efforts, no one want to “go” to the beech now. “Come back to Phuket” the tour agencies are starting to write. We are getting back to normal. But the beeches are not normal. You don’t want to lay in the sun there. You won’t know what will wash up. Or even worse, as many still feel, “when will the next wave come. Don’t close your eyes – because the water might once again disappear – you might fall asleep – and never know it.”

The beach is quiet each morning. Few people walking along. Only those with bandanas around their mouths – as they are searching for bodies.

And there are no dogs.

Excerpts of journal read on NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

From: Lisa Higgins
Date: Thu Dec 30, 2004 8:09 am
Subject: Re: (Singapore Sling) Rick article in the Topeka, Kansas Newspaper
Rick -

Well, you're all over the media! Like many others who have written, my husband Bob and I have been following every word of your emails. We keep talking about the experience you went through, and try to imagine the beautiful Patong beach
that we visited just two years ago in its current state. We've also both forwarded your incredible, intense accounts onto many friends, who have appreciated your accounting of what you experienced.

As I was driving into work Monday morning, flipping through the radio dial to try and get more of an update on the aftermath of the tsunami, the local NPR affiliate put out a request if anyone had any friends/family who had experienced
the events, they would like to be in touch with them. After we learned that you had been in Phuket (thank god you are okay, Rick!) I called the station and asked if they would like an email account of the experience. They said yes, so as you kept writing, I kept forwarding. And today, on the NPR show "Here and Now," they broadcast a summarized version of your account.

It's now available on-line -- of course everyone on this list has already seen your emails, but it's cool to hear it read on the radio program. And to know that you have now reached even more people with the broadcast and its internet

To listen go to:

You need Real Player to listen (or I think a few other players also work). It says the piece is 14 minutes, but they cover Rick's emails in the first 5. Also, I didn't
alert them to the North Platte coverage - somehow they found that link all by themselves!

Rick, thanks again for your intense accounts of what happened. You've made it seem less far away by sharing your experience.
-Lisa (Boston, MA USA)

FIRST HAND ACCOUNT: Ernest Rodriguez

Ernest Rodgriguez gives his account of what happened in Phuket. Actually - this is the first time I am running in to someone on the internet that we I can remember crossing paths with. I was sitting near Ernest - as he was helping to comfort other people. He is diabetic - and needs insulin - and I remember several times him asking for it.

In my stories - you will see references about the "refugee camp." Here is an excerpt from Ernest about that place. He was one of the "receivers..."

Baan Yee Dee Resort was crowded. It seemed almost everyone from the beach area made their way to this resort up on the hill. The resort staff were giving out water as people arrived and showing them the way to a breakfast buffet they had set up. There was no charge for any of this and we appreciated it VERY much as Pong and Joy had not eaten since the day before. Joy claimed not to be hungry, I told him that we could not tell when the next time we would eat would be and he should eat while he could. He ate a few spoons of potatoes and had some fruit. Some Thai people arrived with rice and home cooked Thai food and were giving it away out of the back of their truck, again... no charge. It was very nice to see people being generous in a time of crisis. Thai people can be very gentle and giving, they are very kind and polite... At least most of the ones I've known and met.

To read more:

FIRST HAND ACCOUNTS: Katie and David Appleton in Thailand

Katie, David and teenaged sons Sam & Max Appleton live in Phuket, Thailand. They were there during the tsunami - and continue to provide gallant efforts to help rebuild and help people. Their journal is a first hand perspective of what they are doing to try and pick up the pieces:

In the early afternoon I took two women up to the airport to try to arrange flights. Both have husbands missing and both are loath to leave until all hope is gone.

The German woman had been up in Khao Lak in a bungalow when the tsunami hit. She was thrown directly out the back door far into the jungle. She doesn’t remember landing – she woke up in the back of a pick-up truck – and she limped into our school on Monday night, looking very battered. Today we managed to get her a ticket and boarding pass for a flight back to Germany. She was so torn about leaving – wanting to get home and heal in the comfort of family and friends, yet afraid of deserting her husband wherever he is. When I drove her back to the airport this evening, she told me how she’s had repeated dreams of waves and drowning for the past year – dreams that she couldn’t explain away. She frets now how her husband had wanted to go to South America this year, not to Thailand again. But that he gave in to her, knowing how much she loves the country. I asked her if she thinks she will ever return. She hesitantly said, yes. She doesn’t blame the country and can only believe this is her fate which the dreams foretold.

Read more about about the Appletons and their thoughts and efforts:


Many people snorkel and dive in Phuket and in Thailand. So - the odds of people getting caught before, during and after planned adventures on that December 26 morning are inevitable!

Saki - a young Japanese lady who is based out of Hong Kong, was in Phuket - and launched early that morning to go out to sea. While she was out - the swells hit - and destruction happened all around her. She tells her story - and the days following of being in the "refuge" camps...

Then, a man in shorts approached us for a cigarette. "Thank you. I needed that," he said. "I was at the beach this morning and my wife was sleeping in the hotel. I saw the waves coming towards us, grabbed my son, and ran. I had to hold up my son above the water in the lobby to keep him from drowning. My wife was pulled out of the rubbles. I was told that half the hotel was dead - 200 people. Dead. I'm just glad to have a cigarette."

In her December 30 entry - she shares a poem that summarizes what many of the "witnesses" felt to the event...

When I am with others, I smile.
I am okay. Don't worry about me.
When I am alone, I cry uncontrollably.
I don't know why. I am okay.

I can feel the sadness, the anger, the hurt.
Not mine. But theirs. Of the rest of the world.
I am sad, angry, and hurt - because they feel.
The lost souls, worried families, parted lovers

Read more in her weblog:

FIRST HAND STORY: Evelyn Rodriquez

Read Evelyn Rodriquez story of being on a boat near Phuket when the wave hit.


Her first weblog on Dec 26:

Slammed by Tidal Wave, But I'm OK

A lot of people heard about the devastation caused by the earthquake in Indonesia. I was on Phi Phi Don island off the Andaman coast of Thailand when the tidal wave hit. Not really up to posting the full story as yet, but here's some info I emailed to family members.

We were on a boat tour when the captain dramatically veered off course (we were headed to remote Bamboo Island) and was frantically talking on his cell phone. Their English was very poor so it was not clear what was going on. Long story short, we got on the beach but were too low when the tidal wave struck. It created a flash flood effect and I was in the middle of rapids containing debris, wood and all matter of building material. Ton Sai, the main village and also the pier, are completely leveled is the rumor.

I cut my knee up pretty bad and have trouble walking but nothing broken. I am fine considering the state of most of Phi Phi and the rest of the folks here in Phuket hospital.

Unfortunately, all of our stuff was on a bungalow hotel called Maprao about 40 minutes from where the boat landed so we were not able to go back and get any of our things.

Thus, currently nearly penniless, passport-less, travel insurance-less etc. at the moment. But at the hospital everything is free including email access. Unfortunately, the US embassy has not been very helpful in contrast to other embassies and we don't know much logistically in terms of loans, passports, retreiving our stuff, etc. The ambassador to Sweden personally visited all the Swedes (several were on our boat trip).

I appreciate all the concerned emails from readers but I will not be able to respond individually to emails for some time as free access (no money) may be difficult to obtain for a bit. But please be assured I am fine.

Posted by Evelyn Rodriguez on Dec 26, 2004 at 10:03

FIRST HAND ACCOUNT: Cenues from Sri Lanka

"Cenues" is writing from Sri Lanka - and discusses the beginning of the crisis to current issues...He write:

The dead are being buried with extreme haste and little ceremony. Apparently the people who are burying them are trying to make a note of where the graves are and if they find a passport they are taking a note of that too, in the hope that perhaps one day those remains might be returned to their home countries.

To read more:

FIRST HAND STORY: Kevin interviews people in Thailand

Kevin is in Thailand right now - adding updates to his weblog. Here is an excerpt from someone he interviewed:

When Andy Lee and Samson Hoi walked down the dock on Phi Phi Island -- they thought they had arrived in paradise. But the two 26-years-olds from Los Angeles -- had no idea that in just moments they would be swept away by a wall of water created by the largest earthquake in 40 years.As they headed down the well-worn dirt alleyway toward their hotel -- Lee noticed something strange.

"I looked behind me and there was a rush of water," he says, "but only about a foot high. Within seconds it was up to our waists."That stream became a rushing river -- pinning Choi against a house before sweeping him out to sea. Lee was already in deep water and struggling for his life.

"I was terrified, I was in shock," he says, his eyes beginning to well up with the memory. " I couldn't believe that this was the way I was going to die."He thrashed against the swirling ocean, struggling for breath. He went under once, twice -- a third time and just when he felt he could hold out any longer, he pushed to the surface again.

"I was able to get a half or maybe just a quarter breath of air, but it was enough."Lee grabbed a buoy nearby and held on tight. When he saw an overturned kayak he swam to it and clung on until someone on a nearby boat saw him and pulled him aboard. Choi had already been rescued.

FIRST HAND STORY: Scott Raderstorf and their "round the world" trip / interuption!

SCOTT RADERSTORF thought their "round the world trip" from Boulder, Colorado would be adventurous - but they never imagined. Even before we get to the part of their harrowing experiences in Thailand - you have to first start with this extraordinary trip. Oh how I wish my parents would have done this. Back in October - Scott write in his blog:

The whole family is going and our education will be to learn about the world; different cultures, food, music, games, religions, our common love for our children and more. We have been pondering this trip for a long time and the time has come to make it a reality. We have met many families who have traveled anywhere from 5 to 15 months, all with a different story and suggestions of how to do the trip and all so grateful for the journey and the special time with their family. What a blessing to have advice from so many people who've journeyed before us.

Earlier in the year - Joellen - the mom - commented when she was in Japan "so far - no earthquake." Little did she know that she - and her family would be experincing the mother of all earthquakes - but in such an unexpecting place!

You should visit their website - just to read about what their last three months were all about. Or how about 11-year-old max's birthday yesterday? But the site you should read is about how they "outran" the tsunami. Here is an excerpt:

I ran out of the open air hut to the beach. I could see a couple people being sucked out into the open ocean as the tide drew back. This was just the small one. I recalled a lesson my brother Ross had taught me years ago while I tried surfing (in vain) for the first time, waves usually come in 3's - The 3rd is always the biggest. I looked down the beach to our cabin about 200 yards down, but the boys were nowhere insight!! I started running as fast as I could yelling their names. I got close enough to see the soggy remains of their sand castle that they were building, but no boys. I was scanning the white water that was being sucked out to sea

Worth a read at this blogsite: RADERSTORF FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE


During the days following the disaster I spoke with several people who were either on the beach when the wave hit or injured by its wake. Their stories are horrifying. One man told me that he was sleeping in bed when he heard a loud crashing boom. Within 30 seconds his room was filled with water. In a panic he said he had to smash his window with the TV set to escape his first floor room. His travel mate in the next room wasn't so lucky and when he returned to check on him his body was being removed from the hotel. His friend was only 19, they had been in Thailand only 2 days and had been planning their journey for many months. He had to break the news to his friends' mother that her son drowned to death in a tidal wave the day after Christmas. He was mortified.

Lance is a 30-something Canadian web developer who normally lives in Bangkok - but found himself on one of his island holidays during the tsunami. He has been working in Asia since the late 90s. As he says, "I have been addicted to the party scene well before I arrived here, and since I am prone to landing myself in delicate situations I figured I had better document some of it for posterity and bragging rights."

His website Planet Bangkok is his account of a carefree guy in Thailand - who happened to find himself in the middle of a tsunami:

When it finally hit I saw people completely disappear in the foamy water and many being whisked away at incredible speed towards my hotel. People were mixed in with cars, motorcycles, debris and entire buildings. Everything was thrown around like toys as desperate victims attempted to escape the chaos. I saw a large truck smashing through a hotel lobby. People attempting to outrun the rush of sea were caught by the water and carried away. Everything 500 meters inland from the beach was submeged in 2-3 meters of sandy brown water. Nothing could escape it. I remember thinking that what I was seeing had to be a dream - tidal waves don't happen here.

Read more at:

WHAT NEXT? How do we look forward?

What next?

As many of us wander around these days - these days "in between" - not really past the event - somewhere in between Christmas and New Years - not really in a mood to move on yet, we are asking the question, "what next?" Who is thinking about how to make really big changes?

I came across a great website that is looking at our entire planet - and asking, "WHAT NEXT." It is worth reading and reviewing:

"We continue to count the human loss - the faces of the dead, disconnected from reality by the cloud of statistics to assure manageability. There's a certain irony in this; we know so little about these depths and the effects of a tsunami on them. Like a submarine, we 'ping' for information; like a fishing village, we analyze the flotsam. Yet even as we watch the beach, we need to keep our eyes on the horizon – the future."

Bloggers at, some of them living in the affected nations, began chattering immediately after the waves hit and began discussions of ways to help. South Asian bloggers created tsunamihelp to direct people to aid organizations. "I haven't seen this level of people saying, 'You know what? We can do something here. We can connect the pieces,' " said Alex Steffen, who lives in Seattle and edits "It's mind-blowing, and it's inspiring."

Read more:
WORLD CHANGING - Another world Is Here

FIRST HAND STORY: Fred Roberts in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

"Nobody wants to eat fish for the moment."

Fred Roberts is in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. He is posting pictures and thoughts from his view of the devistation.

"...children just want to be children, given half a chance. I thought it might be time for a break from all the harrowing images bouncing around the world, and the worldwide emotional leap-tide as we all struggle to understand what has happened. Likewise, I'll spare you the heart-rending stories I've heard today."

To read Fred's journal " Extra Extra" - go to:

FIRST HAND STORY: Mark Rochefort in the Andaman Islands

"To be up and out of the Tsunami zone and into a hot bath within 2 days is strangely disarming. I feel as if I am betraying the local people left behind in this tragedy."

Mark Rochefort and his girl friend were on a three month trip around India. When the wave came - they were in the Andaman Islands - on Havelock island, famous for diving.Andaman and Nicobar Islands are under the control of India but only 30 of them are inhabited and only a number are open to tourists.

In his weblog - he blogged BEFORE and AFTER ENTRIES:

Ella, Sri Lanka. We woke at 3am this morning, after only getting to bed at 1am (beers under the full moon on a beautiful beach - just too enticing!) and arrived at Uda Welawe National Park to catch the dawn troop of elephants. As the mist cleared, we stalked the odd beasties in our jeep - all that was missing was a voiceover from David Attenborough. I like elephant footprints :)

Andaman Islands and the extent of the Tsunami's devastation is only just starting to hit home. Sleeping in a simple hut on the beach, we were woken by a serious rumble in the morning and we certainly got a bit wet but, as there are no communications on Havelock Island...

To read more - and track Mark's blog entries: MARK ROCHEFORT

FIRST HAND STORY: Shenth Ravindra on train in Sri Lanka

" wasn't a wave, as such, like a curl with a surf..."

British tsunami survivor Shenth Ravindra said he didn't know what was happening when the Queen of the Sea passenger train jerked to a stop near the Sri Lankan town of Galle -- he just heard screams and saw people running in terror.

The second wave hit about a half-hour later with "an almighty crash," he said.
"This wave took up, it must have been 85 percent of the horizon, and it was coming toward us," Ravindra said. "It wasn't a wave, as such, like a curl with surf, it was just a wall, like a cliff face of water and coming straight for us." He said there was a lot of panic as passengers tried to brace themselves and hang on to the children on board."The second wave hit the train as it was at this angle and it sort of pushed the train inland to the point where it got wedged against the house. And I was able to jump from the top of this train to the top of this house and climb up as high up onto the roof as possible," Ravindra said.

See whole story on CNN:

First Hand Story: Stuart Lock, Maldives, on his honeymoon

"We returned to the bedroom to open the curtains and look out, awaiting the arrival of our luggage. I looked first, and was most puzzled because I had remembered that it was 40 feet to the sea, but at that point the sea was no more than 5 feet from my porch. "Come and see how close the sea comes!" I exclaimed to Galliopi. She did, but a second later it was on the porch. "Quick, get a camera – this must be quite unusual!" I continued. Galliopi already had the camera in her hand, and snapped a shot out of the window, approximately 3 seconds after I'd told her to. You can see in the picture that the water is coming through the window (editor: photo coming soon) At about the same time she was taking the picture, my wife screamed as the sea smashed through the front door. We both ran into the bathroom and shut the door, puzzled, scared, wondering if this was common. We decided to climb from the small wall to the roof, just for safety, but I was taking my time over it. I found it hard to pull myself up onto the outer wall (without the covering) from above my head... "

Read more at:

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

SURVIVING THE TSUNAMI - Part 9 - What would you grab in five minutes?


(If you had less than five minutes to grab items from all of your suitcases – and yet have the ability to run – what would you grab? Would you know where all of your items are? What would really matter?)


About four hours after the first two waves hit – the water stopped coming over the road. It would rise and swell – and then again retreat – but it seemed that for awhile, it wouldn’t go back over the road.

People still paced about nervously, as the mouth-to-mouth rumor kept circulating round and round, “The next big one is coming at 1:00” or “I hear the next big wave will be coming at 2:00.” But from all of the SMS reports I was getting – unless there was another aftershock or wave – there shouldn’t be any more large waves. Or more appropriately – swells.

As the day approached 2:00 and then 3:00 in the afternoon (the first wave hit around 10:15 on Sunday morning), more and more people met at the foot of the hill – just close enough to the beach that they could run – but yet getting closer and closer to making the first steps back on the beach.

Myles and Tracey were staying at the first hotel on the beach – as you came down off the hill. They were in a third floor room when they heard the screaming outside. Their room faced an open air inner court yard – with a swimming pool. When they stepped out of their room in to the outdoor hall – overlooking the pool – they new there was trouble when water came rushing in from the beach side – through the lobby and in to the inner courtyard. Later – during one of the wave lapses – they ran down the stairs – and made it safely to the hill.

But as the afternoon came on – the South African couple, along with many others, became antsy about their stuff. What if there was an even bigger wave that went higher than the first floor? What if it reached up to the third floor and destroyed all of their things as it did all who were staying on the first floor?

Tracey stayed at the top of the hill – and Myles told her he would be back – that he was going down to the bottom of the hill to see how things were going. But Myles was on a mission. They kissed – and he walked down to the bottom of the hill.

What Myles didn’t tell Tracey was that he was going to make a run for it – and along with 10 or 15 other men – when it looked like the ocean had again pulled back – he made a run for the first hotel – and up the stairs.

He grabbed one suitcase in the room. And froze. What should he take? What would be most important? He knew that Tracey would appreciate some “female” items – and so he grabbed those items first. He grabbed the passports and the airline tickets. And a bit of money. With those items, they could get what they need – and out of Thailand if they needed. He grabbed a few clothing items. And then he went to his big suitcase – and grabbed the “carton.” In stressful moments – there is nothing like a cigarette. It was a commodity already that afternoon – and the carton in his suitcase would be a big hit – and a possible “trading item” with others in the afternoon. Time was racing – and he didn’t know how much longer he had. What other absolute item must he grab? He knew what he had to do. And with his last revelation – he filled up the remaining part of his suitcase – the smaller one with wills that could be dragged behind him like a trailer if he really needed to run. The rest he left. There would be another day. Or maybe not. If the rest was lost – no worries – he had the most important things.

He barreled down the stairs and looked out towards the sea. The water still seemed pretty far away – so he made a run, pulling his little necessity wagon behind him. He ran from side to side – dodging debris – looking like he was being changed by a ferocious monster.

He hit the edge of the hill – and kept on running – until he reached half way up the hill. He stopped, panting, excited that he had the important things he needed to survive.

Earlier that afternoon – Tracey and Myles had approached me – asking if I could send an SMS to Tracey’s mother – letting her know that they were alright. I was happy to be able to help in some way.

I sat with Tracey, talking to her about her ordeal, when Myles arrived from the bottom of the hill. There wasn’t too much left on the little rubber wheels of his suitcase, but he had managed to get the things he needed. Tracey gave him a surprised look – that quickly turned to anger. “Where the hell did you go?” She knew instantly that he had gone on to the beach – despite his promises just to look at the bottom. She was angry – but somehow knew inside that it was the nature of a man to do such a thing. Just as the other men at the bottom of the hill had also done. The hugged and kissed – and Tracey calmed down – knowing he as there – and that he had gotten the passports and the air tickets. But she assured him he wasn’t going to get out of her sight for the rest of the day.

I sat on the stairs of the hotel – passing my mobile phone around to other to use. Tracey came back to sit next to me, while Myles sat down on my other side. “Rick – thanks so much for letting us use your mobile phone. I have a surprise for us.”

He opened up his suitcase – and on top lie the final items he packed in his suitcase. He could have taken the souvenirs from their trip to Bangkok or Phi Pi Island. Or maybe the expensive leather shoes he had purchased in Johannesburg on their last trip to the city. Instead, he grabbed something that would make much more sense just for the moment.

At the top of his suitcase gleamed a half dozen little bottle of vodka, gin and rum….4 bottles of Singha Thai beer – and all of the potato chips he could fit. He handed me a beer, grabbed one for himself – and we toasted to the moment. Safety. Airtickets and the passports. His wife. And the best of the contents from the minibar.

“After all,” he said. “Let’s see if they charge me for these!”


The latest information…
- In the first three hours of the waves that hit in Phuket – nearly closest to the center of the earthquake – CNN and BBC reported anywhere from 4 to 100 deaths. It is shocking to now see that the death toll is at 70,000.
- U.S. scientists said the quake that set off the wall of water had moved tectonic plates beneath the Indian Ocean by up to 30 meters (98 ft), causing the Earth to wobble on its axis and permanently shortening the day by a fraction of a second.

- 233 people officially died in Patong, Phuket – where I was at the time of the wave.
- 4,086 Thais and foreigners were missing. This included some 1,500 Swedes, 200 Finns, 200 Danes and hundreds of Norwegians, according to reports from Scandinavian capitals. Sweden's Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said "we fear that many of (the missing) will not be found. Two-hundred tourists are missing from one hotel alone, the Sofitel hotel in Khao Lak, just north of Phuket island. The hotel was destroyed by the waves, which were nearly three stories high.
- The official toll in Thailand is 1,600.
- More than 1,800 bodies have been recovered from Khao Lak beach, north of Phuket island, and more than 3,000 people may have died there alone, police said. More than 300 dead had been found on Phi Phi island, made famous in the film "The Beach." Bloated and decaying bodies continued to wash ashore on the island as hopes of finding survivors amid the rubble of hotels and shops faded slowly. "It's hard to tell which bodies are foreign because they are just unrecognizable," said French rescue volunteer Serge Barros.
- Bodies are still washing up on several beaches three days after the waves struck.

Even though many people are wanting to collect “items” to send – most organizations are saying that these collected items are actually more problematic than sending cash.


Instead, please follow my lead – and make a donation to the AMERICAN RED CROSS / RED CRESCENT Disaster Relief Fund at the following online address (or make a donation to another charitable organization who can help):


If you have high speed internet - you can download a video that a dutch man shot from the rooftop of his hotel. Right click on this link, choose SAVE, and then when download is done - OPEN.

What you see here is the SECOND wave - that pushed 15 feet of water three blocks in to the city. You can see it as he zooms to the left up the block.

When the water then abruptly receeded - so much was also sucked out to sea...

This second video shows again the second wave. This man in high on third story of the beachfront hotel. It shows dramatic footage of what happened.

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

SURVIVING THE TSUNAMI - Part 8 - Being a Redneck

TUESDAY, December 28, 2004

It is later in the day – 5:00 in the afternoon. I arrived home to my flat here in Singapore. It was quiet. Dull in sound. As if sound had been taken away. I looked at some emails – and then took a long and hot shower. My face is sunburn. It is the first time I have looked in a mirror for two days. I thought I had protection on – but that was yesterday. The first day – the day of the wave – we were in the sun the whole day. But I didn’t think about sunburns. There were other pressing items to think about. At the end of the day – as we were sitting around talking – someone asked me, “Why are you wearing pants?” There was no answer really. The suitcase was still sitting at the reception desk – right where I had dropped it – just in time to turn around and watch horrific things taking place on the beach below.

I am a redneck now.

The shower felt great. I stood there for awhile, just letting the water wash over. But then I started to think about how much water I was wasting – and how valuable that water will be to millions of people in the next 72 hours. In Phuket – the government was already driving around, just dropping off cases of water on street corners for anyone to pick up and drink at will. But in places like India and Indonesia and SriLanka – there will be no such luck for awhile. Having fresh water is such a concern right now. Lacking fresh water – many will drink any water – and soon – that water will be polluted with diseases like malaria at worst – and at a minimum, contain enough micro organisms that everyone will catch diarrhea.

I quickly turned the water off.

I was tired. I wanted to sleep. I have only slept around 2-3 hours over the last several night. The night before I left on the trip – I stayed up late – recording music on my new MP3 player. I wanted to relax to great music, read and have a peaceful quiet holiday. I wanted to sleep in everyday. Lots of sleep. But four minutes in to my vacation on the beach – it all changed.

I layed down on my bed. I hate naps. When I turned 6 years old, and my mom allowed me not to have to take naps again – I swore then that I would never take a nap again. And to this day – I still don’t like them. Unless really tired.

I layed there for a minute. Five minutes. Fifteen minutes. It was quiet. But there were sounds in my ears. In my head. I kept hearing the sound of the crashing waves. I heard people crying as they were walking up the hill in between the waves. The would make a run for it – and when they finally reached the hill where we were – many grabbed them. Supported them up in their stiff walk up the hill. People either cried – just thankful to be alive and to have help and to get to a feeling of safety. The other half walked without emotion – in shock – not believing what had just happened to them. But they walked. Or hobbled. And the climbed and climbed. Not just a little, but going as high as they could. As far away from the water as they could.

I kept thinking of the bodies I saw and so many images. I knew then I wasn’t going to be able to sleep – so I got back up – and went to watch television. I still needed to be connected to it for sometime as a way to slowly move away from it.


Sunday, the day of the tsumami, was a very long day. The day seemed to last for tens of hours. There was the initial “attack” as it felt. Three hours later – once it looked like there were stretches of some time – everyone sat around waiting for the return. We sat and waited. Finally – people began to try to recover items. And later – we all came back to the hotel. This small little boutique hotel normally serves 60 people. But that day – 200-300 people crowded its lobby. As the night went on – some left to return to hotels or to go to government camps. Others just stayed at our hotel – content to sleep in chairs around the pool.

Several of us sat at the edge of the swimming pool. It was quite luxurious really – dangling feet in to the cool water. A few of us sat there. And slowly – more and more came. We didn’t have a campfire, but we sat with dangled legs in the water. And people started sharing their stories. Where were they when it happened. When did they first hear the water. Were they on the beach? The street? One of the first levels of the hotels. Or were they in their hotel rooms on higher levels.

Here are some of the stories I heard:

People talked of what it was like to be taking an early morning walk on the beach. Many families were on the beach. Kids get up early – and what a great time to walk on the beach before the sun and the crowds set in.

“We saw that that the water had receded. We’d never seen it before and we could hear others talking about the same thing. You could even see fish flopping around on the beach – which was unusual. Small kids and tourists were walking to where the water had receded, curious as to why the water had gone. Then we saw it. Everyone started to crane their necks to see the horizon. We could see a wall of waters. At first – we couldn’t tell the size of it. And it was a different color – not the light sea blue we had first seen in the day. But it was dark black water. And as it came closer, we could see it was three or four stories high. It felt like watching a move. It didn’t look like it was moving at first. People were saying ‘Oh God – what is that?’ Then people started running. Some tried to get up on the sea wall. Some stopped – thinking they would be safe. After a few seconds, the wave hit and smashed against the beach. It was incredible – at least 1,000 beach umbrellas were swept along as all the water surged through.”

“There was a line of cars where people park by the beach. And there was hundreds of motorcycles – either parked or waiting to be rented. I saw them all picked up like toys – as if a hand just lifted them up – but at a hundred miles an hour.”

“I saw people just disappear when the water hit. I saw a lot of running. Some people were still snoozing on the beach. And I saw small children hit. People were just literally swept away.”

“A lot of inuries happened from people being hit by debris. If you were on the road running – and were between the buildings and the debris, it was dangerous. You got hit by big pieces of machinery. And once the second wave came – there was large shards of glass in the water from the broken windows. People were getting cut in the water and they didn’t even know it.”

“Once the water came in – we though we would be ok – we could sort of float along and be alright. But the current going back to the ocean is what was the most dangerous. It was like it grabbed you and just pulled you back into the mouth of an ocean monster. If you grabbed on to a pillar – you might get lucky. But if not – it sucked you away.”

“There were car accidents as people were trying to escape. The first wave hit – and went over the road. But it wasn’t enough to do most of the damage. Then everyone was trying to drive away and were smashing in to each other. But then the second wave came – and it didn’t make a difference.”


Everyone seemed to take on roles during the first hours of the ordeal. For me – it was messenger. Communicator. Or the guy speaking truth rather than rumor. Within the first hour – everyone was panicing. More and more people were coming up the hill. And when they did – they came with only their immediate possessions. But for most – a mobile phone wasn’t one of them. I had just arrived to Thailand – and so my phone was charged – and I knew people. I had a program on my computer that allowed me to plug my phone in to my computer – and use a program called Jeyo to quickly type instant messages. I sent messages out to my friends, telling them “News. I need news. Please look to see what has happened.” I SMS’d (Short message service) to my friend Tiffany and Simon. Both were away from their computers – but promised to get online within ten minutes. Like angles – they started to scower the internet and news services. Soon, my friends Peter, Jason, Even and Norman were looking for news. I was getting messages from Australia, Norway and Singapore – each scanning the news. They would send 25-30 words. And I would answer a question back. (to those friends who were helping me – I would love to have you tell your story of having received my first messages – what you did – and what you were thinking at the time!)

People began to hear my phone beep every few minutes – and realized that I was getting news. A small crowd gathered around – and I felt a bit like a news reporter – reading stuff off the newswire.

Here is a sample of the messages and how they flowed in the afternoon. I was selectively reading these out to the group as they came in. These came from about 7 or 8 different people. Knowing what what know now – the early reports from the news bureaus were really bad. Remember – the first of the tsumami’s hit Phuket time shortly after 10:15 – and pounded the beach for over two hours.

- 12: 38: Happy Holidays! Are you affected by the Indonesian earthquake? CNN repports that several tourists in Thailand have been evacuated....
- 12: 49: Rick - make sure to buy as much water as possible in case you get stuck...
- 1: 01: Death toll in Thailand is now 250
- 1:16 pm: It was an earth quake that caused the tidal wave. It has stabilised and is not expected to recurr. Are you ok? Please respond when you get this
- 1:23 pm: Thank god ur ok. At moment 4 foreign tourist missing, hotels evacuatd. Earthqke 6.8 in Indian Ocean off Aceh, Indonesia
- 1:29: CNN reports 8.5 quake, at least 2 waves
- 1:30: Reports from cnn say it was the worse quake in 40 years. The initial quake of 8.5 is over and after shocks are being felt. But nothing about further quakes at the moment.
- 1:33: It hit sri lanka, sumatra, east coast of south india. 4 reported dead in phuket.
- 1:36: Merry christmas., Rick... Sorry that it is very noisy here .did not notice message coming in. Am not online now. Outside with my family for lunch. What happened?
- 1:37: CNN reports 8.5 quake, at least 2 waves so far. Thai officials evacuting 10k. 162 killd in Sri Lanka. Expecting 300+ toll in TH. Can't find anythg abt any more waves. Earthqke hit at 7am ur time & 6 aftr shocks
- 1:50: Are you safe in thailand? Should be far away from sumatra...Do you have electricity there now? I will check the internet later when i am back........
- 2:03: Places like aceh were hit by flash floods. Al least ten feared dead and 200 wounded and missing in phuket.
- 2:29: My bro, the weathr guy, reckons 1st wave always worst, not normally furthr waves, but if any small
- 2:34: Not getting ur msgs, only "." Latest CNN news, biggest eqke in 40yrs, total 500 feard dead in SE Asia. Phuket 2 b evacuatd, nothg more specific
- 2:53: Death toll + 400 - mostly PhiPhi island (source: CNN). No news about aiport yet.
- 3:02: The airport is now operational accordning to CNN
- 3:06: Phuket has been badly hit. President has ordered the evacuation of people in low lying areas. Phuket airport is closed to facilitate rescue efforts. Quake has been upgraded to 8.9 on richter scale.
- 3:48: CNN Now! Bad bad bad. Hit also south india. 5th largest earthquake on record!
- 3:53: 8.9 richter scale from richter scale! U might wanna get out?
- 3:54: Hey Rick... Just read the news and realised that phuket was affected too....Tried to call u but your phone was off.. You must take care too. Will keep u in prayer..
- 4:09: Fears of more tidal waves depending quakes. Beware of building structural cracks damage. More govt help coming. CNN
- 4:44: This is Tiff. Tidal wave hit Chennai too. Quake origin north Sumatra. 150 killd in Sri Lanka. Maldives hit.
- 4:47: Reuters report 1 killd, 4 missing, 100 injured in Phuket
- 4:51: Rik . Hang in there mate. Pete
- 5:38: Hey, is all well in phuket? Heard abt the earthquake. Let me know u r happily sipping a cocktail by a beautiful beach.
- 5:57: US Tsunami Bulletin said "No Tsunami warning aftr earthquake" basd on historical info. Guess they wr very wrong!
- 6:40: Rick, i saw the news re phüket. Hope ü r ok. Did ü get affected?

The whole time, we were battling the superticious or rumor mill – many people claiming that another tsunami was on its way. In fact, there was even a time with the next one: 2:00. The next big wave would hit at 2:00 – so you had better not go down the hill.

I didn’t know much about this phenomenon – and so I asked my “internet reporters” about what will happen next. Tiffany eventually went to her “weatherman brother” and asked about what would happen next. “Unless there is another quake or tremor – there should be no more.” I started to tell this story – but with hesitance. How bad would I feel if I tried to counter the “2:00 rumor” – and sure enough – another would come.

But the message seemed to make sense to people – for it sounded legitimate. And it helped to calm people down.

People also realized that I was sending messages. And so, a few hesitantly asked, “Can you send a message for me? I will pay you for it….”

And of course I would. And soon – I was sending off messages to people in South Africa, Sweden, Norway, America, Denmark. They wanted to let loved ones know that they were alright – because they knew soon – people would begin to see the television reports…

The power of technology was amazing. I was getting back message from mothers and relatives – thankful to know that people were ok.

When the first wave struck – we heard to big cracks – and the electric power went off. With that goes internet, telephone and the rest. But mobile telephones keep on working – as most of the towers are spread around and can compensate for each other. I was told that most mobile phone towers have backup battery power – and can last for days. Hence, it becomes a very valuable type of communication during one of these moments.

We tried to call people in the first hours – but we just couldn’t get through. But we discovered how SMS message worked well because of the low bands – and therefore, it was a godsend.

Later – when we started to be able to actually make phone calls. I have probably racked up hundreds of dollars of phone calls. People would see my mobile phone – and sheepishly walk up and ask if they could PLEASE just make a quick call. They insisted on being able to pay later when they could find their luggage or belongings. I assured them it was not necessary – and helped them dial over and over until it would get through. I would hand them the phone – and most would walk to a corner – and just begin sobbing. They would finally gain some composure, assure their loved ones they were safe – and then hand me back the phone as if it was a precious jewel. Some would not be able to get through – but would leave messages. Several such messages also automatically recorded my phone number, and later in the day, I received phone calls back from people who wanted to talk to their loved ones. By then – they were gone – and I really didn’t know who they were. But I asked them to describe the individuals – and I tried to remember whom I had passed the phone to – and assured them that their loved one was safe and sound.

Everyone seemed to have a role. Mine was that of news reporter. Telephone company. And someone who was trying to bring some facts in to the situation. And I also served as a listener.

But after all – isn’t that what communication is all about? Being good at both receiving and sending?

SINCE I COULDN’T SLEEP – I decided to get my pictures developed. I headed to a favorite shopping area in Singapore – and have given them my camera for developing. UNFORTUNATELY – when I packed for this trip – I left my very nice digital camera at home. But on the way – I thought, “No problems – I am not going to take pictures. I am going to be reading – relaxing at the beach. What could there be to take pictures of?”

Yesterday – I managed to pick up a disposable camera – so I guess we will see if any of the pictures came out. I walked around for hours yesterday – and snapped 27 photos. I am having them developed in to digital images and I will be uploading them for each of you to see. Keep an eye open for the “PICTURE EMAIL.”

In the meantime – I wanted Thai food! In my 48 hours – I hardly ate any – and I have been craving it. So, I have gone to one of my favorite Thai restaurants here – and while the films I being developed, and feasting on Peek Gai Sod Sai (boneless stuffed chicken wings), Yum Ma-Muang Rue Yam Som-Oh (pomelo and shrimp salad), and a nice big bowl of Guey Teow Nam Nuer (beef noodle soup). I am drinking Thai beers. And will soon have a mango sticky rice. And I will do a take-away of two more dishes to continue living the taste over the next couple of days.

So yes – I am acting a little odd. It has been a very emotional last couple of days. But little by little – I will get this out of my system.

Before I sign off for this note – I again need to mention several things. First of all – again, a huge thanks to Tiffany, Peter, Jason (who got me back on an airplane today), Simon and Even for the SMS connections to my life – and for caring about me the last hours. And thanks to all of you who have started to send me notes.

Several of you have asked if you could send these emails to other people. Of course. The more who can learn first hand of what is going on here in Asia – rather than just watching it on television – the better.

And if you are a person reading this that doesn’t know me – and you want to stay connected – here is what you can do:

TO SEND A NOTE to me personally or to ask me to keep you on the SINGAPORE SLING mailing list – drop me a note at

If you want to SEND A STORY or a thought to the news group (please – don’t worry about writing) – you can send your comments to this address:

The more that people share the story – the emotion – the better.

I am glad to be back home. And I will continue to tell my story – and that of others – as the communicator – for a long as it needs to be said.


Newspaper article in the TOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL (December 29)

As I understand it, the following article appears on the front page of the Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper ( my home town in Topeka, Kansas)

You can read it online at:

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

By Erin Adamson
The Capital-Journal

The tragedy of Sunday's tsunami still plays over and over in Rick Von Feldt's mind.
Von Feldt, a native Topekan who was vacationing on the beach near Phuket, Thailand, checked into his hilltop hotel just minutes before waves struck the beach below.
"It was the most odd thing, because where there should have been an ocean there was no more," Von Feldt said Tuesday night in a phone call from his home in Singapore.
Locals and tourists gathered on the beach to stare in amazement at the retreat of the sea, but then water appeared on the distant horizon.

"It just looked like a black-blue wall coming," Von Feldt said.

Von Feldt, a 1980 graduate of Seaman High School and former director of tourism for the city of Topeka, lives in Singapore and works for HP Asia Pacific and Japan. He is the son of Topekans Sue and Karl Von Feldt.

The small hill on which Von Feldt's hotel sat was high enough off the beach that he was safe as the wave started rolling in and he watched its progress across the beach.

When the first swell of water approached, it picked up fishing boats, yachts, two mini-submarines, and about 200 cars and 500 motorcycles that had been parked along the beach, and shoved them over the people and across the beach.

"Most of the people that were on the beach just didn't have time," he said.
Many of the people killed at the beach near Phuket were tourists out with their children or elderly tourists sleeping in beach chairs, Von Feldt said. Later that day, as rescue work was in full swing and the dead were being brought to a makeshift morgue, Von Feldt said he met a Dutch tourist whose wife was missing.

The man had been on the beach with his two sons and wife when he saw the wave. He put the boys under his arms and ran, but his wife wasn't as quick and she was swept off the beach and hadn't been found.
"The two boys weren't crying, they just had blank stares on their face," Von Feldt said.
Now back in his apartment in Singapore, Von Feldt said he can't help but think about what his fate could have been.

Another Topekan, Emily Long, a Peace Corps volunteer living in Thailand, was safe at her home on another coast Sunday. In a phone interview Tuesday night -- at about 9 a.m. today in Thailand -- Long said five provinces were badly hit and word within Thailand was that casualties of foreign tourists were very high in the beach resorts.

"That area down there has almost the best infrastructure in the country because it is a tourist area," Long said.

Long graduated from Topeka West High School in 1998 and from Colorado College with a degree in English in 2002. She is the daughter of Sara Long, of Topeka.

"Here in Thailand the way the people cope with disaster is to make fun of it," Long said.

She said on Tuesday she tried to find a boat to Elephant Island and local people joked with her that she might die if she went to the island.

Erin Adamson can be reached at (785) 295-1186 or by e-mail at

SURVIVING THE TSUNAMI - Part 7 - First Hand Account

Subject: SURVIVING A TSUNAMI - Part 7 (first hand account)

Hey everyone. As I got back to Singapore - and having a chance to look at technology to understand more what just happend to me – I came across this "first hand account." It describes again the sequence of events we experienced on Phuket. My taxi had arrived on to beach road just as everyone was standing, realizing that the sea was receeding. My driver was confused, and slowed down to comment something about the water. We continued on up the hill - and by the
time I got there, the water was gone. To understand just how much water that is - look at this link to see how big the bay was – and just how it looked before the disaster:

or if you have java on your computer - try this link as well for a great 360 view - the way it was:

This is similar to many stories heard over the last couple of days. The part about the ocean disppearing is exactly what happened.

'We Didn't Understand, We Were Just Paralyzed'

By Peter S. Goodman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 28, 2004; Page A12

PHUKET, Thailand, Dec. 27 -- They were supposed to be relaxing on the beach or playing a round of golf on yet another sunny day of vacation from the harsh winter of Norway. Instead, Leif Giske and his wife stood on the concrete driveway of a hospital at an overflow morgue.

They lifted the blue plastic sheeting that wrapped one of the bodies, then recoiled at the sight: It was their niece, her flesh bloated from the waters that claimed her, her skin purple. Flies buzzed around cuts in her flesh.

"This is incredible," Giske said. "I'm having trouble believing this."

A day after a devastating tsunami swept over the coconut palms fringing the beaches of this Southeast Asian island, rescue workers continued to extract bodies from a landscape of waste – from collapsed buildings and from the shores, where each incoming tide deposited a fresh harvest of death.

Thai authorities said more than 866 people died following the waves triggered by Sunday's monumental earthquake, with thousands more still unaccounted for. But the scene at the morgue here in Patong Beach -- the busiest stretch of coast on one of Asia's most popular tourist islands -- spoke of loss and pain, of holidays gone tragically wrong, and of the likelihood that there were many more
bodies on the way.

"When you hear the sirens now, it's only dead people coming in," said Ed Plunkett, a volunteer coordinator at Patong Hospital, whose morgue had taken in more than 100 bodies by Monday evening, in addition to the 58 already there. "No more injured. Just dead." He figured there would be as many as 500 by the time the grisly work was done.

Hospital staff loaded bodies into plywood coffins as relatives kneeled next to their dead with incense in their hands. A German man in a blue tank top stepped gingerly through the checkerboard of corpses, pausing at a wall of photos -- faces of the dead connected to misshapen bodies. He bent closer, seeking, then shook his head and walked away.

A woman in blue surgical scrubs and mask bent over the body of a 4- year-old girl with a beaded bracelet on her left wrist. She rubbed baby powder into the girl's creamy skin, then ran a comb through her wet black hair. The girl's face was serene, as if she had yielded contentedly to sleep. The woman wrapped a white sheet around the girl, then used a red marker to write an identifying number on the outside. She was corpse No. 68.

The adults lying dead all around were contorted and grotesque, their misshapen features attesting to lives taken violently, against their will.

Giske, a Norwegian real estate investor, and his Thai wife had been enjoying the holidays in a villa they own here. On Sunday, they had arranged for a sailboat ride with two other families and were down at Patong Beach, waiting for the vessel to arrive, when everything changed.

"Suddenly, we saw the ocean was disappearing," Giske said.

In the span of about 15 seconds, the water reaching as far out as 2,000 yards simply vanished.

It was about 10 in the morning on one of the busiest days of the year. The sea was packed with families. The undertow was so powerful that anyone in the water was instantly sucked out, witnesses said. Then came a strange period of calm, the ocean gone, fish flopping on the abandoned seabed. Some people wandered out for a look.

"Suddenly, we saw this big wave coming," Giske said. "It took all the yachts and swept them in. We didn't understand, we were just paralyzed."

And then they were running full speed toward a hotel above the beach - - Giske, his wife and his niece, 32, the mother of two small children.

The water gave chase. His wife ran though someone's first-floor hotel room. He ran to the stairway and got up to the safer ground of the second floor.

Where their niece went no one really knows.

As the water crested over the beach, it tore furiously into the shops and hotels on the seaside strip. "Big cars and boats were coming, crashing into the hotel," Giske said.

When the surge passed, he called out for his wife but couldn't locate her. People were running back and forth frantically.

He found his wife after about 10 minutes. They went to one hospital after another in search of their niece. On Monday morning, a nurse told them where they might have to look: They came to the morgue.

As his wife signed the paperwork to have the body flown to Bangkok, then on to Norway, Giske stood on the pavement, taking in the scene. More bodies were being loaded onto gurneys, carried in bloody bedsheets, flopped down wherever space remained.

Despite the pulverized landscape, Phuket was a refuge for hundreds of tourists making their way back Monday from outlying islands. Among the hardest hit was Koh Phi Phi, a crescent of land south of Phuket, with steep outcroppings towering over jungle stretching to white sand.

Lisa Reed and Chris Chapman, two British backpackers, said they went there for a relaxing highlight to a global adventure that has taken them from Latin America to Asia over the past year. "We're due back in Wales in February," said Reed, 24. "Koh Phi Phi sounded beautiful, perfect for Christmas."

They were in their guesthouse, set about a half-mile back from the beach, when they heard what they described as a terrifying rumbling. Then they heard screams and saw people running. "I looked up and saw water coming down the street destroying everything in its path," Reed said.

The water reached their second-story room, then flowed back out. Then another wave came, and they realized they had to get out.

A refrigerator was lodged in the corridor along with furniture. The only exit was through the window. They removed slats blocking their path and climbed down, emerging into a scene of carnage. A man with a punctured lung wailed for help. People were stuck in trees, having grabbed them as their boats and bungalows floated past at the high- water mark.

Some tourists set up an impromptu triage unit in a bungalow on higher ground. Reed and Chapman were enlisted to help. He took an ax and detached doors from their frames for backboards. She collected bedsheets and affixed them to polls for use as stretchers.

At first light Monday, they hiked back down and talked their way on to a ferry to Phuket. They arrived midday, exhausted, emotionally battered but happy to have survived.

They could not find an empty hotel room -- some had been destroyed and the rest were booked. So they went to the airport, joining a teeming mass of frenzied people. They bought tickets for the first available flight to Bangkok, 36 hours later. Then they sat down on the floor and waited.

"I guess it will be okay from here," Reed said, slumped against the wall, tears in her eyes. "I'm just reflecting on how grateful I am."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company