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):


At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wrote to you anonomyously a while back, on your first page of the tsunami stories you wrote, as the mom of the twins who recieved $25 each as Christmas money. First off, who on Earth would be so mean to me and my twin daughters to post what they did when I checked in yesterday, showing my husband what we had done, and where it was posted. Some other person cut me low, and said terrible things like I wanted the kids' money, not myself as not wanting to have to donate it. How can this person presume to know me, my motives (none!!) as well as my attitude towards my children and their combined contribution to Red Cross as a $50 donation specifically earmarked for the Tsunami Relief Efforts?? It hurt me deeply, and I am grateful my 8 yr olds won't get a chance to read that nasty reply. It would bring them to tears, as it nearly did to me. Can there truly be such an unhappy person out there that they must try to tear down the sweetness of a child's giving nature, as well as their innocence when dealing in this world of psychotic adults? I would choose the waves over this mean and cold individual. I'd have let the sea have them. This sounds jaded, but this world is cold and uncaring, nay, unforgiving of errors. I am still proud of what they did, and the whole idea was their own between them. Their Guardian Angel must be quite pleased with them. One last word - KHARMA.
Mommy Claire
One angry Mommy

At 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to claire: your story was sweet and touching. sadly, this person could not see that. the problem with the internet is that any kook and nutjob, off their medications, can write whatever insane thoughts which fester in their diseased psyches and the rest of us must then be subjected to their mental illness. i can only say don't take it personally, and put it out of your mind as quickly as possible.

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