SURVIVOR: Dave LoweHi Rick,
I’m also a tsunami survivor (Maldives) and was wondering if u r participating in the 1st anniversary in some way. I’m staying in Khao Lak, Phuket, and Phi Phi for the anniversary, and was wondering if there are any other events going on during that time? I’m sending you my account of what I survived, written as soon as I was rescued and got back to Male, the capital.
Regards, Dave Lowe
MY STORY FROM MALDIVES
It was just after 11.00 am, a perfect Maldives day, 90 degrees, sunny, and no clouds. I was in my office working, at the northern end of the island, which was 20 meters across, fighting a hangover from a hard night in the bar that had stretched to 4 am.
I was woken up that morning at 7 am by an earthquake, but being from California, it seemed like nothing, and I did not even think of a tsunami. I was half listening to a colleague whine about a missing pen, then I heard a strange bump against the door, and people outside were screaming, 'the children! The children!!... I lept to the door to find seawater seeping under it, and it took all my strength to push it open. when I looked outside, I could see that the ocean was now level with our island, and to my horror, a wall of water, boiling, frothing, angry as hell, was bearing straight down at us...there was a strange smell in the air, like death, and a weird mist that looked like thick fog.....I stopped breathing, and ran.
But where do you run when you are 1 meter above sea level, and there’s deep water on all sides?? I ran towards reception, where guests and staff were screaming and rooted to the spot as the first waves began to hit the island. the furniture was already being swept away, and the guest shop window exploded, showering glass into the water where guests without shoes were trying to stand up.....within seconds the water was up to my waist, and as I braced myself for what seemed like certain death, the tsunami wave slammed into the resort, crushing me against the walls of the executive offices...my cell phone, keys, resort ID, watch and sunglasses were ripped off.
As I desperately inched my way to reception, with water roiling and boiling so violently I could hardly stand up. it was like a vortex, and I grabbed hold of children who were being washed out to sea and who’s parents were missing, and threw them up onto the reception counter, as I looked back to see if I could help anyone else, the full force of the tsunami hit, crushing palm trees and instantly destroying the executive offices whose windows smashed, and then the walls collapsed, sending staff trapped inside (including my assistants) computers, TV's, filing cabinets, desks and broken glass and shattered wood straight out to sea. I grabbed hold of a pillar as the wave struck, and the water was now up to my chest... most guests were clinging to anything they could find, and some had horrible injuries from the smashed glass that was everywhere (I was barefoot and so were most of the guests) I saved an 80 year old woman who washed by in front of me, just before she went out to sea, and as I could no longer hang on, I hauled myself up to the reception counter, where a security guard handed me his walkie talkie and fled to the roof.
A guest with a cut so deep on his leg, his bone was sticking out, was pointed out to me, and I quickly grabbed a towel and bandaged it and elevated his leg as there was no doctor....we were covered in blood as we tried to stop the bleeding, which nearly killed him, but luckily it stopped in time, his wife grabbed my neck so tight I could hardly breathe, screaming at me in French, and the man went into shock and passed out. As wave after wave smashed against the resort, we watched, helpless, as, in the distance, we could see many of the 50 water bungalows that faced the reef disintegrating, instantly turning to matchwood as the waves pounded them, dumping guests, four poster beds, TVs and air conditioners into the water so rough it was like a washing machine gone mad. the debris, also from the collapsed restaurant over the water, and planking from the boardwalk, began to surge through reception, and my fear was so intense that I wasn’t thinking even if I was going to die, I knew I was going to die. I just didn’t know when.
All I could think was how much higher did the water have to go before we were all swept away? we couldn’t tell if the island was sinking or the sea rising.... a receptionist colleague screamed at me WHAT IS HAPPENING??? WHAT IS HAPPENING??? as we desperately tried to pull ourselves together, we heard two gas canisters explode from the restaurant, blowing off part of the roof, and then the water sports center and doctors clinic were crushed by another wave, where staff were clinging to the roof as the palm thatch disintegrated. we were lucky that not all the water bungalows collapsed, because the debris would have crushed us to death. as the only staff member there with a uniform and nametag at that end of the island, I was thrown in charge, and now with the walkie talkie I desperately tried to contact the other end of the island. there was no answer.
Then, as quickly as the water came up, it was gone, leaving fish flopping on the floor of the lobby and seaweed draped everywhere. I shouted at staff to get a guest list for a head count, and screamed at guests STAY OFF THE BEACH!! GET AWAY FROM THE JETTY!!! DO NOT MOVE!!!! as guests regrouped, I looked out to sea in the opposite direction, where my eyes popped out of their head: there was another wave coming right back at us, even bigger than the first, and even worse, full of air conditioners, refrigerators, water heaters, mattresses deck chairs, and even people... GET BACK!!! THE WATERS COMING BACK!!!
I screamed as guests ran for things to grab hold of. when the 2nd wave hit, it was like titanic, and we desperately tried to hang on as the dangerous debris smashed its way through the lobby again. this was followed by two more waves, which were slightly smaller, and then silence. as I assembled guests together for a head count, a staff from the other end of the island ran in and said that there was a 50 foot wave coming, and we needed to get to the spa, where there was more shelter.
This set off the guests who wailed and screamed as they ran towards the new shelter, as I took up the rear; I heard a seaplane land, probably unaware of the danger. I ran like hell to the jetty, waving my arms to the pilots to tell them to go away....they did not see me, and landed.... as they tied up to the pontoon, I noticed an ominous wave heading straight for the plane, and like a horror movie, I actually saw the seaplane getting sucked under by the vortexes and eddies that were 20 feet across.... I screamed at the cabin crew who was on the dock, frantically trying to untie the rope, as the engines screaming, got closer and closer to the water.
I got down on my hands and knees, covering my head with my hand to prevent injury, screaming into the walkie talkie to see if anyone could contact the pilots....I was just waiting for the engines to smash into the water and see the plane flip over, when the crew cut the rope, jumped on board, and the plane bobbed up and took off.
As I watched it take off, they dipped their wings to show us help was on the way....I looked behind me to see a 5th wave bearing straight down, and as I ran back to reception, I was too late, and I was lifted off my feet and carried by it straight into the lobby again. when the wave subsided, I ran to the spa, passing the GM's house, where his son's nanny was nearly being washed away, I rescued her and his son, carried them to safety, where 60 terrified French, Italian and UK guests were huddled in total shock. quickly I set up a triage unit to treat the broken bones and horrible cuts.
Half the guests there were missing family, and were threatening me with death if I didn’t let them get to see where they were, but the island had been cut in half, a river of water was now bisecting it, both ends of the island had lost 50 meters of land (and had come within 10 meters of washing away reception) and coconut trees were being washed out to sea. for the next 6 hours, we rode out wave after wave as the sea gradually calmed down, but at least 5 warnings came to us via radio that a huge wave was still coming, 100 feet, 200 feet high.
Guests suffered in the strong sun, and we found a tarp to create a shelter for the 15 children without parents. that evening, when we had got all guests together, we sandbagged the restaurant and set up all night patrols to watch the sea. no one slept that night, we were terrified of a wave hitting in darkness, and all night we just huddled in corners waiting for sunrise. someone produced a flashlight, and with the guests secure, we checked out our rooms, which has been totally demolished, everything washed out to sea.
When the sun came up, there were champagne bottles, passports, candy bars, dinner plates, business cards and hundreds of branches and tree trunks washed up on the beach. within 4 hours we had evacuated the guests on two huge speedboats and as soon as the last guest left, the staff took off our nametags, and just burst into tears. We didn’t get off the island until 2 days later, and we salvaged what we could of our belongings, some things washed up on the beach, some things wrapped around trees, and some things covered in mud. we showered in the sea and rationed the bottled water we had left. when we boarded the seaplanes to get back to Male, and we flew over the destroyed island, the full devastation was clear over 100 rooms demolished, no restaurants intact, and debris and trash was everywhere. it wasn’t until that evening that we heard the death toll and the devastation elsewhere.