Thursday, December 29, 2005

11 NEW STORIES - be sure to read!

With the one year anniversary - more stories have been sent to me for their inclusion on the website. They are heart felt expriences you must read!

Also - this morning - I had a chance to participate in a one hour BBC radio show on the effects of blogging and the TSUNAMI. Also on the show was Evelyn Rodriguez - another phenominal writer / reporter / caretaker of souls from the Tsunami. I encourage you to take time to look at her site at CROSSROADS . She tells her story of returning to Phi Phi one year later.


Dave goes to Thailand for the ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY. He talks about relationships of people bound together by being survivors.

SURVIVOR: Mark Nelson
Mark was one of those on the GROUND FLOORS of Patong Beach. He was staying at the Ban Thai resort on Patong Beach. He tells of his story when the first wave hit.

Dave was working in Maldives, when water taller than the entire island hit. Read his heroic and frightening story.

SURVIVOR: Dennis Hoogenkamp
DENNIS HOOGENKAMP writes a series of emails about his TSUNAMI EXPERIENCES and work in Phuket, Kao Lak, takuapa and Aceh in Sumatra.

SURVIVING PARENTS - and the story of a daughter who did not - Leanne Cox
This is a very sad story. Leanne Cox was never found. However, her parents write to letters to their daughter, even thought she never would read them.

SURVIVOR: Saly Huyton
Four friends are awakened by an earthquake while on the island of Phi Phi. Their story is shocking.

SURVIVOR: Fiona and Simon
A boyfriend and a girlfriend come together in Thailand for a much needed vacation – and barely survive.

SURVIVOR: Pat Benton
Pat describes her and her husband’s “THREE DAYS OF HELL IN KHAO LAK”

Man, Women and son fight for their life.

Naomi Bowman describes her experience on Phi Phi – and what she is now doing to make a difference.

Gary Marshall, father of 8 year old Charley – sends in Charley’s word of what happened to him.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


An interview with Gene Kim and Faye Wachs on NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO "AMERCIAN WEEKEND"

As the one year anniversary of the TSUNAMI HAS PASSED – so many people around the world are dealing with the memories in their own way. Some have returned to the beaches where they encountered and survived (and sometimes lost) from the tsunami. And the emotion varies with what people experienced – whether they were so involved that they were wet and battered by being in the middle of the waves or whether they were so near that they were witnesses – but spared physical pain.

I have tried to describe these two different experiences by labling them as either “getting wet” or “getting splashed.” The first are those survivors that found themselves running from the water – yet getting caught up in the water – and surviving. Getting “splashed” indicates those who saw it – got away from it – feared it and were affected for days around the event – but only suffered emotionally from the event.

People “getting wet” have told me they often are still dealing with trauma in so many different ways. They have nightmares – fear of water – and can’t stop thinking about images and feelings they dealt with. And of course, while over 250,000 died – millions also received physical impacts that they are still dealing with.

For those that were “splashed” – there is another kind of emotion that they – we – feel. Recently – National Public Radio Weekend America host Barbara Bogaev talked to one couple who was witness to the Tsunami.

Her interview recognizes some of the emotions that many “splashed” people feel. Thoughout the last year – we are asked so many questions – from well minded individuals about how we are “copying” with what we saw.

I have typed out a transcript of some of the radio interview. In particular – the questions of “survivor guilt” and “how much do you talk about this?” and how we have coped in the last year resonated well with me. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Note – the original story of LISTEN to the FULL INTERVIEW below at:
It is featured in HOUR TWO under the heading: Tsunami Anniversary

INTERVIEWER: December 26th marks a haunting anniversary for Gene Kim and his wife Faye Wachs. It is one year to the day, that Kim and Wachs were scuba diving in Thailand when the tsunami hit. Weekend America host Barbara Bogaev talks to the couple about their year. Gene Kim told us the story last year, when they returned…

For you Faye – how has this year progressed in terms of processing?

FAYE WACHS: In some ways, it is like so many emotions and images…come at your so quickly that you still don’t really get a chance to process them…I was talking with someone earlier today…and they were asking me what the hardest to thing to see was…and at first I said, of course, the piles of bodies….and then no – it was hard to see people looking for their children and not being able to find them…and then no – it was also hard to come in to the dock and see people crying over the bodies….and it was even hard to go to the airport and see them sitting in the corner by themselves sobbing and you knew they had left someone behind…

GENE: We actually have not had that many conversations about this thing…we have not really talked about it… part of it acknowledges that we have both moved on from the event in terms of coming to terms emotionally with what it means in our own lives… that we have come away with our lives in tact…

FAYE WACHS: We have told the story so many times to so many different people that that is also very therapeutic…because I am usally there when he is telling the story and he is there when I am telling the story – and we sort of take turns – and so we have got to hear what they other is feeling from these third party contacts…

INTERVIEWER: What kind of contact have you had with people you have got to know while you were waiting…that you were helping with recovery…

GENE: Well, strangely enough, almost none.

FAYE WACHS: To me, it is more the nature of the event…it was a crazy hectic couple of days where people were forced to operate in circumstances that they would not normally operate in….then you go back to your normal regular life. One thing that was great that came out of the event was that with us being on the news – we were getting emails and phone calls from people I went to elementary school with…junior high…highschool, college…Hebrew school – that I had not talked to in years and it was really fantastic to catch up and find out what had happened with those people – and I have actually stayed in contact more with friends I have recontacted me because of the Tsunami then with the people that we had met in this incredible moment of tragedy.

INTERVIEW: People talk about survivor guilt. How have you experienced that?

FAYE WACHS: One of my friends has given me a reality check on that. I was telling her that I did not really feel like a survivor. Because we didn’t get hurt at all. We got scratches and bumps and bruises. And some mosquito bites. But nothing serious. And we were both ok. And kind of looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you make it SURVIVED UNSCATHED.’ That was sort of the reality check I needed…I think it has actually led to feelings of euphoria…I go outside and it is a beautiful day and I appreciate it more…because I am thinking, WOW – the sky is blue..the birds are singing… I am alive and if things had gone otherwise, it might not be. And so I think it has actually made me feel really good about my life

(end of excerpt)

You can

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Dave Lowe sent me his journal entry from December 26. Dave was in the Maldives when the Tsunami hit (see his story below). He is not off to Thailand to be a part of the commemoration of the Tsunami.

Here is Dave's journal entry, with reflections and unexpected meetings...

Checking in for my Air Asia flight to Phuket, I noticed a group of men standing around in shabby grey matching suits with identical red pins on their lapels. On closer inspection, I saw that it was a smiling portrait of Kim Il Sung, and the wearers were none other than the North Korean national football team, off to play a round of friendlies. As they stood there, blinking in the bright lights of Bangkok International Airport, looking at the corn-rowed, tattooed and tanned tourists with cell phones pressed to their ears, fiddling with IPODs and fondling their partner's exposed flesh in a most un-Stalinist way, the North Koreans pretended not to be impressed, or stunned, by the internet cafes and NIKON ads and HENNESSY XO commercials blasting out of Duty Free. They had to: 3 minders were watching them like hawks.

When the flight was delayed, I took a seat next to two of the players, who only grunted when I asked them if they were Korean. A few minutes of silence followed, and then the new flight time was displayed as an hour after the scheduled departure time, I mimed the new time by pointing at my watch and dragging my finger to the 6. The three minders went for a cigarette break, and the two players chatted in shaky English; turns out all the knew was a hearty HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! and we chuckled at the passing circus of backpacker freaks, swishing past in pirate pants and trailing BO.

When the flight was finally called, I found myself sitting next to the two players again, and safely sitting behind the minders (who were unable to be reseated to watch the team from behind) the two players shyly said hello, and announced their team positions "Goalie," said one; "Striker," said the other. I handed them my business card. They studied the address, grunted, and put them in the pocket behind Kim Il Sung.

When the cabin crew came through selling drinks, Goalie and Striker had only a wad of Won, (sadly, no clever fake 100 dollar bills, rumoured to be produced en masse in North Korea) so I bought them each a Coke and they slurped it down in an instant. When I pulled my passport out, they snatched it out of my hands, and curiously looked at all the stamps inside. Tokyo. Frankfurt . Singapore. When they saw my birthplace as NYC, they gasped: had an American really just bought them a Coke?

There was a moment of muttering, but then they shyly handed me their passports, and I flipped through them; both Striker and Goalie were 19 years old, and looked like they were almost 35 (their faces were lined with wrinkles) Then, as we settled in for the flight, I asked Goalie if he had any North Korean money for me to look at. He pulled out his wallet again, and handed me a 100 Won bill. When I handed it back, he refused it, and I refused his gesture, before he grunted and forced me to take it. I held it in my hand for a minute, but Goalie got more and more nervous, and eventually took the bill from my hand and put it in my jacket pocket.

Now it was Strikers turn to be nervous. But not for himself; he was clearly berating his friend Goalie for his lack of respect for his country's leader, handing over a bill to an American. Ten minutes went by, the argument got more heated, and suddenly Striker leaned over, took the bill out of my pocket, unfolded it, and pointed to the picture of Kim Il Sung.
"He is our father. I'm sorry."

Striker then folded the bill up and pushed it back inot Goalie's pocket. Satisfied, he folded his arms across his chest and then I was his best friend: he asked me what ranking Man United had; Real Madrid, and who David Beckham was married to. This went on and on as our plane touched down at Phuket and taxiied to the terminal.

The 3 minders had gotten off first, and the three of us walked to the baggage claim, laughing like old friends, until we reached the ground floor. Then, the smiles faded, and the two men fell silent in face of their minders, who eyed me like a hawk. Ten uncomfortable minutes passed, as the bags popped out, and as I pushed my cart out of the terminal, I saw a wicked grin flicker across the faces of Striker and Goalie, who had their back turned defiantly to their team. "Happy New Year," they whispered.

An hour later, I stumbled out of my taxi at Poseidon Bungalows, a Swedish run resort to the south of Khao Lak. As I tried to fall asleep, it was impossible: it was the first time in a year I had slept near the sea (the last time had been on a gasoline and sewage soaked beach in the Maldives, listening to people lose their minds) Eventually I got up and went down to the beach to find an elderly Swedish couple already there, unable to sleep either. It wasnt jetlag; the year before they had narrowly survived the tsunami as their bungalow at that very spot had collapsed all around them. They had been washed out the window and clung to trees as the waves swept in, flattening the mangroves, and had eventually, after 4 days in hospital, returned to their little town in central Sweden, where they had to break a window to get in their house; they had lost everything, even their housekeys.

"We had to hitchhike home when we got to Stockholm , imagine that, at our age," the wife chuckled.

We sat and talked most of the night, happy to see the sun rise behind us in the steamy jungle.
'We know that jungle well," remarked the man. "we lived there for 2 days."

After breakfast, I hopped on a moped and sped off north to Bang Sak, one of the most affected beach areas in Thailand. Even a year after the waves, dark green creepers that have grown over much of the debris can hardly cover up the damage; a short walk on the beach reveals a swimming pool, full of large, western sized shoes; a single wall with a dive map painted on it for islands off the coast; and room markers pointing in odd directions, to bungalows that no longer exist.

Even the beach still reveals objects: I found a shampoo bottle from the Chong Fah resort, one of the largest there before the 26th of December, now only a memory marked on maps; even the concrete foundations are gone.

Even further down the coast are remains of whole Thai villages, now just row upon row of white military style houses, with shiny tin roofs and OXFAM and UNICEF posters hanging from trees. The beach front at Bag Sak has been rebuilt, and the local gangs of teenagers race down them on their souped up Suzukis, although it will take years for the palm trees to regrow; the waves even ripped them down, leveled the beach and flattened the reef offshore.

Everyone here has a story to tell the day the sea disappeared.

'I clung to that pole, over there," points a street vendor selling Coke in plastic bags. "I couldn't find my daughter, but lucky, she survived."

A hotel clerk at the Le Meridien remembers how the waters smashed into her hotel, and she was trapped upstairs, as children she had wished Merry Christmas too had disappeared.
Another woman working in a handicraft remembered how she ran to the hills as the waves demolished her shop. She jumped into a lake without thinking and survived. Her friends who hesitated died.

"Lucky," she says as she hears I had survived too, touching my arm gently. "Lucky."
Another bellman at the Similana Hotel slaps me on the back, "you got hit by Christmas tree too?" he asks incredulously, as he recounted the morning when the lobby's fir tree was lifted up and both of us were hit by it.

Perhaps the saddest stories are the ones no one will ever know. The remains of the Sofitel Magic Lagoon resort, once one of the top resorts on the coast, is still there, even after over 200 guests died in their rooms, and 400 bodies were pulled off the beach. Just one security guard is on duty there, watching for journalists eager to jump the fence, take pictures, or dig for clues to get information about the tragedy that is now being fought out in the courts. Only the coconut trees there are the witnesses to the horrors of that day. Most bear scars from the waves, and others have since died from salt poisoning.

Further away, I see a wealthy Thai man with binoculars looking out to sea. He is looking for a person to buy his land; he doesnt want a joint venture, he just wants out. He points with a stick to a point 2 meters up the nearest coconut tree, the height of the water that day. "If you know someone who buy, I give good commission."

But the longer you stay along the Andaman coast, the more you start to realize something: almost everyone in tourist shops and bars have the same tsunami survival story, told in the same detail, and with the same outcome. You mention this to your hotel manager and they shake their heads, "Yes, many people use it to sell handicrafts, motorbike rentals, drugs...."
Despite this, there are more Mental Health agencies than photo agencies, more FOR SALE signs than hotels here, and more touts than tourists. Khao Lak was dealt a particularly harsh blow, and its the locals who werent able to fly home after the disaster. They were the ones who found bodies in back gardens, fishing boats rammed through temples, and cars piled up like firewood. Most hotels have only 30% occupancy, at a time when it should be 100%.

"Maybe next year people will forget," says a taxi driver with a sigh. "Or maybe the year after."
The next morning, the mood is somber on the ferry as it pulls into Phi Phi island harbour. Its Christmas day, and oldtimers who know the island well, gasp: you can see right through the island now, all the way to the other side; years of development had been obliterated in seconds as not one but two waves smashed together on the narrow isthmus; killing almost 1,000 people. Even though a year has passed, most of the island is still in ruins.

The 26th of December dawns clear and beautiful, and an uncharacteristic quiet spreads across the narrow lanes and alleys where pirated DVDs and trinkets are usually sold; many shops are closed to remember.

The memorial ceremony takes place at the foot of a large Banyan tree, where the 20 foot waves crashed ashore. Three thousand people gather, all wearing white, clutching flowers and bouquets of white roses. Suddenly a helicopter appears, and the Deputy Prime Minister hops out to give a speech, hold a minute of silence, and pray with a row of saffron robed monks, before he hops back onto his helicopter and flies back to Krabi.

The service is over, and afterwards, family and friends slowly wander down to the beach to wade into the lapping waves, where they offer private prayers to the sea, before tossing in fragrant orchids. Most weep openly, and some collapse on the sand, in tears.

Suddenly, the sea starts to withdraw, rapidly, leaving the turquoise lagoon almost empty of water. Survivors of that terrible day turn white, and look at each other in panic.
"Don't worry, ladies and gentlemen," announces a man through a loudspeaker. "It is the normal low tide, nothing to be afraid."

An hour later, when the water has returned, three long tail boats arrive, and offload 500 coconut saplings. A human chain forms, and then, the new plants are passed, one by one, down the line where they will be replanted in the most devastated part of the island.

The afternoon passes slowly; families continue to stand in the sea, tossing in flowers and prayers, while tourists a few meters away go about their holidays, sunbathing, chatting away, and drinking beer.

A restaurant manager recounts how he clung to a palm tree as his restaurant and staff were drowned. "I still keep my suitcase packed each day, just in case I have to leave," he says.
"I didn't notice anything," sniffs a woman from Europe when a traveller asks her if she thinks the island felt sad.

A small group of international volunteers gather at Sunflower bar, rebuilt on the exact spot where it was before Boxing Day 2004, using driftwood and smashed boats as construction materials. Many had been there since December and had helped the local Thais rebuild their houses. Here, a girl works behind the bar on the same day her sister died behind it, serving her customers; another woman waits tables despite the loss of her granddaughter; and another guy works the DJ booth, having lost his brother in a bungalow a few dozen meters away. All around them is the buzz of chainsaws and pounding of hammers, as workers frantically build back the islands lost accommodation.

When the sun sets, and the here-to-party crowd at Ao Ton Sai hits the usual nightspots like Apache, pounding to the rythym of Twisted Sister and Nirvana, and the shirtless Thai touts are back to ogling the bikinied German girls ambling past, and the usual Hollywood movies are blasting out of restaurants, in English and Thai, there is one last remembrance ceremony.
Under a moonless sky, on the beach again, 1,000 rice paper lanterns are lit and released into the night. As relatives hold the lanterns in the air, waiting for the hot air to kick in and carry away the lanterns, tears roll down their cheeks: they are looking up into the sky, at hundreds of golden lanterns, floating higher and higher, creating a beautiful, three dimensional constellation, ever shifting as the winds shunt them back and forth. For over an hour, people wade out into the sea again, in the cold, dark waters, watching every last one, until the lanterns float so high that they merge with the stars and finally disappear.

Then, everyone at the distant bars began to toast each other, shouting, "HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!" over and over, in six languages. And as I sat there with other survivors, we looked at each other and knew we were lucky to just be sitting there with our new friends, sharing a laugh. And then I remembered the bright eager faces of those North Korean football players, swimming in that foreign sea awash in internet cafes, cell phones, IPODS and credit cards, eager to make new friends and share some laughs, too, despite their country that was as alien to most of us as the moon. "happy New Year!" they had cried out at me in the plane. Happy New Year indeed.
Everyone, hope you have a great 2006!!!!

Monday, December 26, 2005

SURVIVOR: Mark Nelson

Mark Nelson sends in his experience:

Rick, somehow I got to your website is my story, perhaps we will meet this weekend ?

I was a laying in bed in the Ban Thai resort on Patong Beach, my friend was showering as we heard this huge noise, a fight? I looked out of our upgraded first floor room to the pool /patio and saw nothing but water, filled with small fish, and floating sundries. A broken pipe was my first thought, I pulled out bottles of shampoo trying to save the pool guy more work from the clean up. It just got worse and worse, run to the second floor came a yell in a foreign language, I ran thru our room and we dashed up the back flight of stairs as wave 2 or 3 swept around our hotel..I went into the water to pull out a man, let me get you to your room I said, this is not my hotel he responded, where did you come from?, I was just walking on the beach and now Im here came his response thru many thankful tears, his legs were mangled, I wrapped him in a bed sheet from a toppled maids cart and set him in the lobby, I never saw him again when I returned a boat was sitting where the lobby bench had been.I walked out and took photos of Starbucks(same as your shots), we stood there at the same exact same time the day before spending too much on expensive coffee now it was empty, not even a cash register..and more spooky.... no people, where was everyone? We flew out the next day after spending the night on the other side of the island with Thai friends. I flew home, two weeks later I brokedown during a tsunami benefit as I reviewed my pictures again and again. I took a month off work, got intensive therapy and support from friends, and meds, and became a mental hermit for a long time.

I have returned currently in BKK and off to Phuket 12/25 for the anniversary, Ill be in the red and white target shirt,.... same bed, same room, same hotel trying to chase away the memories that have haunted me for the past year. Mark Nelson
Christmas 2005

Sunday, December 25, 2005


Hi 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


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 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.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Tsunami Survivors Mark First Anniversary (from AP Press)

By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer

PHUKET, Thailand - Survivors launched a boat laden with flowers, candles and incense in the first ceremony Saturday to mark one year since the Indian Ocean tsunami swept away at least 216,000 lives in one of the world's worst natural disasters in memory.
Peter Pruchniewitz, 68, who was swept from his hotel room and lost a friend to the waves, returned from Zurich, Switzerland to attend the ceremonies. Asked why, he said simply, "to remember."

The commemoration in Thailand was the first of hundreds to be held on the grim anniversary in the dozen countries hit by the earthquake-spawned waves last Dec. 26.
Amid the mourning, survivors and officials were taking stock of the massive relief operation and peace processes in Sri Lanka and Indonesia's Aceh province, the two places hardest hit by the tsunami. In both cases, success has been mixed.
At Bang Niang beach in Thailand's Phang Nga province, mourners including Western tourists who were caught in the disaster placed offerings into a brightly colored, bird-shaped boat that was floated into the Andaman Sea as members of the Moken, or sea gypsy, tribe chanted and pounded drums.

The Moken believe the ceremony helps ward off evil spirits.

A private memorial service for British citizens and two candlelight ceremonies were planned for later Saturday on the nearby island of Phuket.

In hardest-hit Indonesia, workers on Saturday scaled the minarets of the imposing 16th century mosque in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, replacing missing tiles and slapping on a fresh coat of whitewash in preparation for special services on Monday.

Thousands of survivors have been rehoused in Aceh, but agencies say they are only about 20 percent of the total number needing new homes and the landscape is still one of devastation in many places.

But the tsunami did bring one positive side effect in Aceh — it resulted in a cease-fire between the government and guerillas that ended a decades-old separatist conflict.

No such progress was made in Sri Lanka, where disputes over aid delivery and an upsurge in violence blamed on separatist Tamil Tiger rebels have dashed hopes that the tsunami would end the country's long-running civil conflict.
On Saturday, troops patrolled the streets of the capital, Colombo, amid boosted security for tsunami ceremonies.

Exactly one year ago Monday, the most powerful earthquake in four decades — magnitude 9 — ripped apart the ocean floor off Sumatra island, displacing millions of tons of water and sending giant waves crashing into Indian Ocean coastlines from Malaysia to east Africa.

A dozen countries were hit by surging walls of water powerful enough to level buildings and sweep small ships miles inland. Entire villages in Indonesia and Sri Lanka were swept away, five star resorts in Thailand were swamped, and in the Maldives whole islets temporarily disappeared.
At least 216,000 people were killed or disappeared in the waves, according to an assessment by The Associated Press of government and credible relief agency figures for each country hit — though the

United Nations puts the number at least 223,000.
The true toll will probably never be known — many bodies were lost at sea and in some cases the populations of places struck were not accurately recorded.
Almost 400,000 houses were reduced to rubble and more than 2 million people left homeless, the U.N. says. The livelihoods of 1.5 million were swept away.
The world responded with donor pledges of some $13.6 billion. Rebuilding has started in some places, and fishing boats and seeds have been handed out to kick-start ruined village economies.

But many refugee camps are still full and residents rely on aid handouts to survive. Concerns linger about the pace of rebuilding.

President Clinton, the U.N. special envoy for tsunami recovery, said much work remained to be done and the international community faces a "critical challenge" in following through on its promises of help.
"One year ago ... millions of ordinary people across the globe rallied to the immediate aid of communities devastated by the tsunami," Clinton said in remarks prepared for the anniversary and published Saturday in the International Herald Tribune.
"Now our collective challenge is to finish the job, to leave behind safer, more peaceful and stronger communities."
AP reporters Meraiah Foley in Phang Nga, Thailand, Chris Brummitt in Banda Aceh, Indonesia and Dilip Ganguly in Colombo, Sri Lanka contributed to this report.

Friday, December 23, 2005

One Year Ago Thoughts

And so - another Christmas has come. For many - preparing stockings - trees and presents highlight the days. But for 230,000 families and more around the globe (the number of people who lost their lives), this Christmas is an anniversary of what happened a year ago. Water. Oh so much water. And sadness.

For me - it was a few days to go on holiday for reflection that turned in to an experience I will never forget. But I walked away with only bad dreams. For a million other people - the heartache of loss lives on. And to those families and friends - I wish you peace and friendship during this very tough week ahead!

"What are you going to do on December 26?" so many friends have asked? "What will you do to remember?"

How can you honor a day where so many people died? What gives justice to such an event? Time? Writing? Sittong on a beach and watching water - in defiance of what this might best did to so many? What would really be the right thing to do.

It will be personal to many.

If you experienced the Tsunami - and you are spending a day - a week of reflection - I would like to hear your stories!

For me - I have not been back to a beach for a year. Even though I live on the island of Singapore. I have been pushing myself to return. And yet - I have to decide.

How will you remember? Or forget?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

SURVIVOR: Dennis Hoogenkamp

DENNIS HOOGENKAMP writes a series of emails about his TSUNAMI EXPERIENCES and work in Phuket, Kao Lak, takuapa and Aceh in Sumatra.

This first email was my first contact to most of my friends, two days after the disaster. The rest of the emails I have written during my time in Phuket, Kao Lak, Takuapa and Aceh (Sumatra) in the weeks following December 26th 2004. I wish everybody strenght who has been involved in this terrible event and respect to all you heroes who were there with me during the rescue, recovery and relief missions. Email is always welcome, to share experiences, feelings and stories.

Onderwerp: Situation Phuket
Datum: dinsdag 28 december 2004 5:01

Hello Everybody,

Sorry it had to take such a long time for me to send you this email, but as you can guess, the situation here is quite horrible, phones were not working and mobile network was down and is still down all the time. Would like to let all of you know that I survived this terrible event and was an eyewitness to most of the horror stories you have seen on TV.

Continued. Read more here: SURVIVOR: Dennis Hoogenkamp