Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Newspaper article in the NORTH PLATTE TELEGRAPH: "Couple Grateful friend is OK" - December 27

NP couple grateful friend is OK
By KRISTINA JERGENSEN , The North Platte Telegraph


Sri Lankan civilians make their way through heavy debris that was left littering the streets after a tidal wave struck the town of Galle early Sunday in southern Sri Lanka Monday. The death toll from the massive tidal waves that struck Sri Lanka's coastli

A North Platte couple was thankful on Monday for a friend who survived a tsunami that killed more than 22,000 people in Africa and Asia on Sunday.

Early Monday morning, Stu and Rajean Shepherd received e-mails from Rick Von Feldt, a dear friend who works in Singapore.

The captions read, "Surviving a tsunami - From Rick in Thailand."

"I knew the tsunami had occurred and didn't realize he was over there," Rajean Shepherd said.

"My first thought when I saw the e-mail was, 'Oh my gosh, I hope he was not in the middle of it or hurt.' I saw it was from him, and thought, 'Thank goodness. He must be somewhere safe.'"

The tidal waves were caused by a huge earthquake at 7 a.m. off the coast of Sumatra, an Indonesian island.
Von Feldt was vacationing in Phuket, an island off the coast of Thailand, when the tsunami struck.

At 10 a.m., just minutes before the waves rolled in, he arrived in the town of Patong, passing by the beach before driving up a large hill to his hotel.

Von Feldt said everyone on the beach was standing up, looking to sea.

There was almost no water in the bay, and many boats were grounded on the sand.

After reaching his hotel, he checked in and went outside, joining hotel staff and guests watching the nearly empty bay.

Suddenly, water began to pour into the bay, he said.

"Rapidly, as if someone had turned on giant faucets, it just seemed to rush in," he wrote.

In 15 minutes, the entire bay was filled. And then Von Feldt saw the swell, a wall of water 20-feet high.
"The swell came, and we saw it rushing over the wall. And it kept rising and went higher than the palm trees along the edge," he wrote.

"We all stood there, stunned. People came running up the road, shrieking. 'Water, the water,' they were crying."

He said the water receded slightly, then rose again with a vengeance.

"An 18-foot wall rolled over the front of the beach, the shops and everything in its path. It just kept coming and coming. It would recede and then come again, rushing over the seawall," he wrote.

"Down below, we could see boats and autos and everything smaller being thrashed again and again against buildings. It looked like a bathtub with lots of small toys."

Von Feldt continued, "From up the hill came bloodied and battered people. As the waves would retreat for 10-15 minutes, many people would try to make a run for it...People came running up in towels, in their underwear...The road filled with wet people in shock, bloody, with broken arms and legs. People cried and cried."

He said he walked closer to the beach area to look closer.

"I stood there and watched as people ran 'in between waves' to get to the street that ran up the hill," he wrote.

"Most made it. But if you were far enough down the beach, you didn't realize how quickly the receding water would come back. Some got caught, and we sat and watched in horror as the waves rushed back, grabbing the feet of people and throwing them up in the air like little rubber ducks...

"The sounds of the people screaming and crying won't leave my ears for quite a while."

The waves continued for three hours, Von Feldt said.

"But none were as strong as the first two tidal waves, that threw cars on top of each other, overturned buses and washed out every stick of furniture and people's belongings from nearly every first floor room at the 20-block long beach," he wrote.

He said his hotel became a refugee camp, with people filling the lobby and pool area outside.
Five people slept in his hotel room that night.

On Monday morning, he walked down to the beach.

"Cars are stacked on top of each other. Motorcycles are jammed on top of trees and are hanging off balconies," he wrote. "Shops are wiped out. There is sludge and stuff on everything."

He mentioned rescue teams pulling bodies from a basement grocery store on the beach.

"I suspect I will have nightmares of this for a while," he wrote.

He said on Monday, thousands of people were waiting at the airport to leave. He hopes to fly out to Singapore today.

"I remember back when 9/11 happened," he said. "Since then, like many people, we have all wondered, when will the next terrorist activity be? I have expected that sooner or later, something bad would happen. It is nature.

"But I never dreamed it would be here. I never dreamed that I would be in the middle of it all. And I never dreamed I would be in a tsunami."

Shepherd said she was amazed by Von Feldt's e-mails.

"I felt like I was there," she said. Later, she turned on the morning news, which showed video taken from what appeared to be the same hillside above Patong on Phuket, Thailand.

"It showed the tidal wave, someone up on the hill capturing the whole thing," Shepherd said. "I was sitting there thinking, 'This is absolutely incredible. Rick's e-mail explained all this and here it is on the TV.' I thought I had already seen it before."

"To think that I knew somebody who was standing there and witnessing it all seemed incredible. I was amazed that on the other side of the world, I had a connection with someone living through that devastation. Our hearts and prayers go out to all the people in the world affected by this devastating disaster."


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