Wednesday, December 29, 2004

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: http://www.cjonline.com/stories/122904/loc_tsunami.shtml

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

TOPEKA NATIVE WATCHED SWELL
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 erin.adamson@cjonline.com.

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