Wednesday, December 29, 2004

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


At 12:19 PM, Blogger Dinah said...

I am guessing that the "baby powder" referred to may actually have been DDT to help reduce the spread of disease.

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At 10:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow this story is so amazing I'm so glad some people are ok. That would be horrible. It is really helpign me with this story I'm wrting as you probably already know if you read the other stories and read the comments.


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