Wednesday, May 18, 2005


NBC has already detected an oncoming case of viewer compassion fatigue. "If we do story after story that is nothing more than misery, there is a danger of viewers just shutting down because they can't comprehend the enormity of it all."

So - I have to wonder - is there such thing as PARTICIPANT COMPASSION FATIGUE - the syndrome when individuals who witnessed the Tsunami - was involved in the Tsunami - feel as if they have to run away - and not think about it?

Posted by Rick Von Feldt
Posted by Rick Vonfeldt

In the first hours - NOBODY QUITE GOT IT!

In the first moments - hours - days - nobody quite realized what had happened. Nobody realized that it was so large! One television report wrote:

"This is one of those stories nobody quite understood in the first couple of days exactly what this was going to be," says ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff, reporting Monday from Colombo, Sri Lanka. "The White House didn't understand it, journalists didn't understand it, and aid organizations didn't understand it.

"Now, more and more reporters are wandering into the story. But everyone was slow to completely grasp the significance."


The Asian tsunami is "one of those dauntingly horrible logistical stories to get to," making travel extremely difficult, says CBS News chief Marcy McGinnis."

During the moments of the wave - I SMS'd to at least 5 friends - asking them what they had heard. They politely wrote back that there was nothing on the news. But I don't think they actually had a sense of what I was trying to tell them. This was big. Very big. People were dying - right in front of my eyes!

Posted by Rick Von Feldt
Posted by Rick Vonfeldt

SURVIVOR: Paul Landgraver

It has been 5 months or so since the tsunami. I try to forget. But every so often - I find myself wanting to feel it again - just a little.

An E-Mail from a Tsunami Survivor - Weekend Edition - Saturday, January 8, 2005 · Paul Landgraver was living in the Khao-lak region of Thailand when the Tsunami hit. He reads from an e-mail he sent days after returning home to California, detailing his lucky story of survival. To listen to his story - go to this sight - and listen to his story:


He tells of his story - looking for his girlfriend Karin. He was washed away in the water - naked. Looking for his girlfriend Karin...

Posted by Rick Von Feldt
Posted by Rick Vonfeldt

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

SURVIVOR: Louise and Kingsley Gray

A “near miss” story from Louise and Kingsley Gray. This is the email they sent out to their friends from a quick internet access in the days just after the tsunami.

December 30, 2004

Hi all,

I write this email at the thai/malaysian border in a town called Hat Yai. Tomorrow being the 31st we alight a train bound for Kuala Lumpur arriving at 7am New Years Day.

Will not be much of a party for us but that does not matter at all, we are just so very thankful to be celebrating in anyway shape or form. I guess you are all wondering what just happened.

Well our story is one of pure luck and alot of divine intervention. Kingsley and I arrived at phuket on the 22nd of december. we were staying at some bungalows in a beach side resort known as Kata Beach. It was paradise I had never seen anyting quite as tranquil and was thoroughly enjoying our stay. On the 23rd of December we decided to venture down to Patong Beach a few kms away as I wanted to order a special silk top (pink of course) to be made for me. Whilst in Patong Kingsley and I toyed with the idea of checking into Patong on 26th december after we finished at Kata as this place had slightly different atmosphere to where we were.

On Christmas day we had checked into a beautiful resort known as the Sawasdee Village in Kata beach for 2 nights. My mum and dad had given us money for 2 nights over christmas for us to stay some place very nice. We were recommended this place by a Danish family that we met in Penang. They too were checking in.

So we met up with them and began our Christmas celebrations with the Danes. Christmas eve we went into a tourist bureau as we were looking at travelling to Phi Phi Island to continue our southern thailand island hop. There was a boat that we could catch that took us to the island then onto another coastal region called Krabi. We decided against Patong and just carrying on island hopping. We did not book ticket then as we were going to compare prices with other companies. We also wanted to make sure that the boat only allocated seats and no standing room as some of the boats can be dangerously overcrowded. This turned out to be a good option so we decided to book our ticket for 26th december. There were 2 available trips 8.30 and 1.30 originally we were going to go on the 8.30 as we wanted to arrive at the island mid morning to arrange accomodation.

But as we were staying in a classy hotel which had a American buffet breakfast included, great pool and checkout time of 12pm we changed our minds. On the morning of the 26th we awoke ate breakfast and then went swimming in our pool not the beach as we had to leave that day.

whilst swimming in the pool I noticed a woman run in and all the staff dropped everything and ran away, not telling the guests anything. They just ran away and we left wondering what the hell was going on as you could tell in their eyes that something bad was happening. We went outside to see people, cars and bikes running up the road. Niels the Danish man went to the end of the street and saw water coming down it and was lucky to jump over a wall to safety then return to us. By then we had got enough information that there had been an earthquake and that the water was a Tsnaumi heading in. We grabbed important things and got in a bus and was taken to a hill we were told to climb to higher ground, we did this.

Whilst on the hill announcements were made that a second wave of 24m was going to hit within the hour. We climbed higher up the hill. Luckily we were able to get message to our parents that a tsnaumi had hit phuket but we were safe up a mountain shortly after these calls lines went down and was impossible to get news out. we were up the mountain all day.

At 5pm we returned to the hotel to see if we had lost anything. so fortunate that it was unscathed the water stopped metres away. It was surreal, devastation all around us, people injured and many drowned, yet the place we stayed nothing and at times it is embarrassing to say we did not even get our feet wet. Many of the death toll have come from Patong beach, Phi Phi island (totally destroyed) and the bodies of the 8.30 boat trip were being washed up on shore as they were not in deep water when tsnaumi hit.

SOMEONE DEFINITELY WAS WATCHING OVER KINGSLEY AND ME! Advise was given to stay up the mountain as after shocks could trigger more tsnaumis. We grabbed all our luggage water and some food to eat and up we went. We camped out all night on a beach towel that we took from the hotel. Up the hill for the evening were locals, tourists and MOZZIES!! Have many spots from the bites. Next day we went back down the mountain and checked into a room which was situated away from the beach and inland. We spent the day trying to workout what to do but everything including airport was shutdown and the bridge out was flooded and closed. Of course all boats off the island were not an option. So we remained on the island until 29th when we got tickets for a bus out.

Much more to tell but will most likely tell when get home. We have chosen to continue our journey and will return home as originally planned 15 January. Want to finsh trip on high note. Louise and Kingsley


Most of the interesting things you will want to read are over on the right hand side of this web blog - the horrifying stories of what happened on - and the days following - of December 26th.

Still - the thoughts come and go in my mind - mostly as things I want to forget. Occassionally, I run in to a person who says, "Oh yeah - I heard you were in the Tsunami." I look at them sometimes - puzzled - feeling as if surely they can't mean me. But then I remember it was there - and I am amazed at how the mind just somehow wants to forget.

At a dinner party this weekend - I ran in to an artist friend. The day after the tsunami - he painted a dramatic piece he called "Tsunami." He told me I must come look at it. I was excited - hoping to be able to buy a piece of his that could be a memory of what I experienced. But when I saw it - it was too real.

Over the last weeks - we have been talking about it. And the topic came up again this weekend - when I found out he renamed it.

If you are interested to see a picture of this piece of art - to read his side of the story - and my reponse to him - go and visit his blog at:

SIGHT ORACLE - A blog by an up and coming artist in Singapore

Be sure to add your thoughts in to the comments section of his blog!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

SURVIVOR: Felix, Louise and Zac

Posted By Felix(11/05/2005 10:34:00)
10.15am Boxing Day 2004

Originally posted on and then reposted by Rick Von Feldt on

In the words of Felix:

We walked the 5 min walk from our beach on one side of Phi Phi, down the narrow lane lined with shops and shacks, to the pier on the other side. We stood for a minute, waiting to get on the longboat we’d just hired to take us to Monkey Island. While we were waiting we noticed that the bamboo jetty on our left was collapsing into the sea. People were jumping off it and the longboat men were jumping into their boats, which immediately flipped over. People were pointing at the sea and Zac (my 10yr old son)asked if there was a shark.

There was a sudden sense of panic in the air and I said, “let’s go” and we started to walk back up the lane, away from the pier. Within seconds there was a lot of shouting and everyone started running. I still didn’t know what was happening but I knew it was serious. I heard a huge roar and when I looked back there was a massive wave rushing down the lane behind us, wiping out everything it touched. We turned right into another lane and were immediately stuck in a people-jam (we later realised that this lane lead to the Phi Phi Hotel, one of the only tall, concrete buildings on the island).

A woman holding a baby asked me what was going on and all I could say was “the water’s coming”. I saw my friend Louise and Zac in front of me jumping onto a high step and into a shop and as I jumped up to follow them I saw another wave rushing towards us from the other side of the island. The next second we were all under water being tossed around, as if we were in a huge washing machine full of rubble. I could see furniture and bodies but no light and couldn’t figure out which way was up.

By now it felt like I was drowning and that was when I thought our time was up; I thought of Zac and thought, “God, what have I done?” There was a table on top of me and I heaved it away and suddenly my head was out of the water, a few inches away from the ceiling. I started screaming Zac’s name and heard someone shout “mum” but I wasn’t sure it was him so I carried on shouting his name and then heard Louise shout “I’ve got him, we’re ok”.

Such a relief. We were all still treading water and hanging onto anything we could and it was very dark, as debris had blocked up the door and window. I could see a Thai woman next to me going in and out of the water so I grabbed the back of her head and tried to keep her face out of the water but she was struggling so much she just disappeared. Then a little girl (I think the woman’s daughter) aged about 2 sort of floated into me and I dragged her onto a piece of wood and tried to get a sign of life from her. She was like a rag doll, with foam coming out of her nose and mouth and there was nothing I could do.

By now someone had kicked out the window and the water started to ebb away. I was at the back of the room and Louise and Zac had swum out of the window at the front left.

I couldn’t figure out how to get over to the window but I saw my other friend Lisa near the door at the front right so I swam over to her and we both climbed out the door onto the remains of an air-conditioner. There was debris everywhere, palm trees, roofs, glass, slabs of concrete, the contents of shops etc. To our right was the Phi Phi Hotel and there were people on the balconies shouting at us to try and get over there. Louise and Zac were to my left, standing on some steps leading to the roof of the shop we had been in. Lisa and I started to climb over the debris towards the hotel but when I looked back I couldn’t see Louise and Zac anymore. I think the wall of the hotel had the occasional brick missing as a kind of pattern and I started to climb up the wall like Spiderman!

People on the balconies had knotted sheets together to make ropes and I grabbed one to get onto a little ledge below the balcony. A man with an arm pouring with blood grabbed my arm and pulled me onto the balcony. Lisa was below saying she couldn’t get up so I grabbed her arm and her pulled her up. Then two Chinese women saw me and were pleading for help so I dragged them up too. It’s amazing the strength you have when you really need it. Another wave came rushing in but this time there was nothing left for it to knock over. Then I saw Louise and Zac, back on the steps again. Someone had started to make a path over the debris with mattresses, from the shop to the hotel and Lou and Zac climbed over and also climbed up/got dragged onto balconies.

I was running down the hotel corridor frantically opening all the room doors until I found the one where they had ended up. The hotel soon started to fill up with people, some of them terribly injured. I walked past one man lying on the floor in agony and the next time I saw him he was dead with a sheet pulled over his head. More and more injured and dead people were being brought to the hotel, although there were no doctors to help them and soon the corridors were full of people and the floors were covered in blood and broken glass. We started ripping sheets up to make bandages – there wasn’t much else we could do. We saw a couple of helicopters in the early afternoon that seemed to drop someone off and then airlift some people off the beach.

For the next few hours there were constantly rumours flying that another wave was coming or that big cracks were appearing in the walls, or that there was a smell of gas. We didn’t know what to do – stay put and risk having the building explode or collapse or leave and risk getting caught in another wave? I had been outside earlier to retrieve my bag that I’d seen in the debris and I knew that leaving would mean exposing Zac to the sight of so many dead bodies but staying seemed just as bad, especially as it would soon be dark and the hotel was beginning to stink of blood and death.

Finally at around 5.30pm a tall English man appeared and said that we should get up into the hills, as there was another story circulating that another wave would come at 6pm. He said he would lead us there so we grabbed what we could, sheets and towels, and followed him. We had to walk and climb through the devastated town, looting stuff that had been in the shops - peanuts, water, chewing gum, a shirt, anything that might be of use. It took about 30 minutes climbing through jungle undergrowth to get to the camp that had formed in the hills. There were about 200 people there, Thais and tourists, sitting or laying on the ground and an open, wooden, local ‘bar’, where seriously injured people were being put – I know one was a pregnant woman and one was a baby. A few fires had been lit and everyone huddled around, very calm, all in deep shock.

A Thai man gave us a candle and we lit it but then got worried that it might have to last a long time so we decided to put it out and only use it if we really needed to. Luckily there was a bright full moon so we didn’t need it. More people arrived throughout the night, lots of them looking for their friends or family but there were hardly any children up there. At about 3am a local man got a transistor radio working and eventually tuned in to a news channel which was when we realised the enormity of what had happened (up until then we didn’t know if was just Phi Phi that had been hit) and knew that people at home would be hearing this news soon and would be frantic about us. The news said that all the surrounding islands had been hit so we wondered how anyone would be able to get us; where would a boat have to sail from and how long would it take? It was impossible to sleep.

27th December
At about 6.30 we decided to go down to the pier as we could see a few boats heading towards the island. As we got to the beach we started to see dead bodies, most had their faces covered. About 100 people were on the pier, waiting next to more dead bodies that were being put onto a boat. A woman started screaming and crying as she identified one of them.

We got onto a ferry that took 500 people to Phuket, 2 hours away. It was eerie sailing on the same sea that had been so wild the day before. There were a lot of people quietly sobbing; one was a Swedish man who we’d met the day before when he was searching for his girlfriend called Andrea. He still hadn’t found her. Another was a boy who was about 14 who told me he had lost his dad whose name was Lenny and he asked me if I’d seen him. It was so sad.

When we got to Phuket it was pandemonium, lots of noise and sirens and Thai people thrusting dishes of rice and noodles at us. They were so lovely and genuine and kind to us strangers, when their own country had been devastated. Someone asked where we were going but we didn’t know and me, Lou and Lisa all burst into tears! He told us to get in the back of his jeep and he sped off through Phuket (which didn’t look like it had been affected at all, it must have been the other side that got hit) to a college or town hall that had been turned into a makeshift ‘help centre’.

It was total chaos, but after a few hours we got on a bus to the airport and after another few hours we were flown by military jet to Bangkok. It looked like the sort of plane that might fly tanks and for one horrible minute I thought they might make us parachute out at the other end!

British Embassy staff were waiting at Bangkok airport and we finally got the chance to phone home to say we were ok. Then it was on to the Landmark Hotel courtesy of the Thai government where we stayed for two days while we sorted out new passports and some clothes. We decided then to carry on with our trip, not go home and sit watching terrible news footage (and I didn't want my son's lasting memory of Thailand to be the Tsunami) and we actually managed to have a very lovely two weeks in Koh Samui! Then it was back to reality and the realisation that, but for the grace of God, we could have just had our last ever holiday.