SURVIVING THE TSUNAMI - Part 5 - Nighttime Eerie CalmPart 5 – Nighttime Eerie Calm
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
It is 1:00 in the morning here in Phuket. The city got past its first day of recovery – a day of gruesome discovery, tears, and realization that things won’t be the same for a long time.
There are candles in my room. Despite hope that we would get our power back today, it never came. The owners of the hotel had arranged for a power generator – but the size of it required a large truck to deliver it. And the local city police refused to allow this truck the ability to drive down the destroyed road. There were too many low hanging power lines – and it would have consumed the barely passable two lane road – and turned it in to one. And for them – blocking the road for ambulances to come and go was too much.
Most of the other guests at this hotel gave up – and left. I feel bad for the owners – and decided that since I would be leaving in the morning anyway – then I could tough it out one more night here.
I haven’t bathed for two days. Today – after my walk around the city – I really wanted to “feel clean.” So, I snuck down to a corner of the swimming pool – and with a small bar of soap, tried to wash my face and hair. I figured there could be worse things going in to that pool. If they don’t get power soon – then they will have to eventually also start telling people they can’t use the pool.
At around 7:00 – the hotel staff came around and knocked on my door. They offered me a styrofoam packet since their restaurant was not opened – and the nearest was quite far away. It was a packet of rice with some scrambled eggs on top. I think. I haven’t really clearly been able to see the contents of the package.
I decided I was going to try to at least have one meal before I left this little island in the morning – so flagged a “tuk tuk” (small vehicle) to take me back in to the city. If you move 4-5 blocks off the main beach road – to the primary road that leads to the airport, there is electricity. And where you have electricity – you have full hotels, lots of people – and foreigners attempting to make the best of this holiday they found themselves in. And of course, the locals are just happy to get a little more money out of the tourists before much drys up and stops during the heavy rebuilding they must do.
While about two thirds of the restaurants on this main road were open – each displayed a sign with one or two dishes they were making. With refrigeration gone for the last 36-48 hours – much of the fresh food had spoiled. And the local “wet” markets – where they buy fresh meat hasn’t opened. And so – you got what they had.
Everyone seemed to be trying to make the best of it – but it still felt different. At least to me. I wondered around the streets. Shops were open – hoping to get some tourists to buy. But nobody seemed in the buying mood. Mostly, people were huddled in groups at bars. They were laughing – and from the outside, seemed to be having a good time. And perhaps some were. But I think also people were taking comfort in the feeling of being in a group.
Little by little – the make up of the people are changing. I heard the television describe the people – the tourists left here in Phuket – in three groups. The first was the wounded or people directly affected – those who lost bags or saw their life pass in front of their lives. Most of those folks got off the island yesterday. The second group were individuals like myself who were in the beach areas – at Patong – and who either saw the waves or experienced them in some way. For us – we are sort of lost – wondering around – not sure if we should leave or stay. Some got new hotels – and are still wondering how to make something out of this trip. We wander around with cameras – wanting to take pictures to try to record what we saw. And we talk to those around us – wanting to share our version of the story. The third group – and honestly – the largest group – wasn’t affected. There are really limited hotels within 3 blocks of the beaches that were hit. The rest of the people – thousands – were in hotels inland or in other beach resorts on the other sides of the island that was not affected.
My driver today was telling me that people at the Marriott were living just like it was another typical day at the beach. For them – Patong was a tourist area that they didn’t want to go to anyway – and so they just looked for new beaches.
For me – I have these mixed emotions. I never personally felt any danger from where I saw the tidal waves come through. But for me – it was the dramatic three hours of watching the waves come one after another and create the damage. I stood at the edge of the bridge – just feet away from the waves – and watched as it did its damage. I saw people run from the beach when the water reside – and saw people who were broken and affected. For 48 hours, I have been seeing the remains of the destruction and have been listening to people. For many others on the island – they have not even left their resort compound to see the destruction.
As I was about to come home tonight, I jumped in to one of the “tuk-tuk” autos. When I got in and told him where I wanted to go – he had a look of concern and apprehension on his face. “I don’t like to drive on beach road” he said. In order for me to get to my hotel – we have to return to the beach where the destruction happened – and drive on a five foot section, where there remains battered autos and boats strewn on the road. It is dark and quiet. Off to the right, you hear the waves lapping at what is left of the sea wall. It is eery – like a haunted ghost town. If I would have said to him, “No problem – I will get another auto” – he probably would have agreed – and let some potential money to the way side. But I nodded my head as if to say I understood – and he headed off. It was an odd request – as no one stays on the beach anymore – and there are now only two hotels up the hillside that are open – both without electricity. Most have left by now – and so the request to go to a place where nobody lives is odd.
When we came to that section of the beach – I felt my heart racing. He gunned his engine and swerved and dodged debris in the road. As we neared the bridge that crossed the channel – he roared his engine – as if sure that the waves were coming again. We raced up the hill – and back to the hotel.
Outside, the leaves of the palm trees are blowing. It feels spooky here in the room. The breeze comes off the ocean. Candles flicker here in the room. But instead of hearing the occasional roar of laughter from the beach and seeing the hundreds of flickering cars and taxis and motorcycles that should be dotting the beach front – instead of seeing thousands of people walking up and down the road – it was all dark. Silent. Dead.