Tuesday, December 26, 2006

2nd ANNIVERSARY - Another year to remember and reflect

Tuesday, December 26

Good morning everyone. It is Tuesday morning, exactly 2 years later after the "wall of water" changed millions of lives here in Southeast Asia. I am Singapore as I write this, having just returned from Thailand. The day is not as sunny as it was two years ago. Rains fall, flooding much of Indonesia and Southern Malaysia. For them, this year will be remembered as the year of the floods. It seems that boxing day is not a very good day at all for citizens of southeast asia.

This morning, I got up early and headed to the local "teleport" site of CNN to appear for about 5 minutes in an anniversary discussion of the tsunami. It is odd to speak of this, but I continue to do so as part of "my contribution" to keep the memory alive - and to insure that it doesn't become an emotionless picture in a coffee table book. Millions of lives were affected this day two years ago - and today, hearts and souls mourn the loss of the loved ones. Or silently say prayers, as I do, for the realization that we are alive.

If you are in Singapore, there will also be a special edition of a Channel News Asia show called blogtv.sg. It features tech information on blogging and other related activities. I am a guest on the show, and we discuss some of the emotional aftermath of what happened. From around the world, you can watch it live on the internet at the same time at BLOGTV.SG

I continue to look for other survivor stories as a way to document, tell and keep a memory of what has happened. Each week, thousands of readers and students come to the site to read what happened - first hand. If you are a survivor - send me your story!

After seeing the story on CNN this morning, Mark Brandon wrote to me: Hello Rick, Was just on line when you came on CNN. Thought I would send in my story.
Where I stayed ( Patong Beach Bungalow ) our place was totally gutted, just two little cottages left ( I was on top of one ) standing. I saw on CNN a pic of the PBB as they showed a speedboat and I recognise PBB from the bright orange brick tiles.
Did you know that from waves 3- 6 there was someone in that boat, being battered about but luckily was not thrown out. Anyway, Merry Xmas and Happy New Year. Mark Brandon

You can read Mark's story below. The boat picture he refered to is one that I took about 18 hours after the tsunami - and is also in the selection of pictures on the website. I belive they showed them on the television show this morning.

Lastly - to fell survivors - I send my love and concern to each of you. In our moments of bitter sweet emotion - both to be thankful for being alive - yet aware of such pain and sorrow from those that did not, I wish you peace on this second anniversary.


SURVIVOR: Mark Brandon, Jason Beech and Rick Everett

Hello Rick,

Was just on line when you came on CNN. Thought I would send in my story.
Where I stayed ( Patong Beach Bungalow ) our place was totally gutted, just two little cottages left ( I was on top of one ) standing.

I saw on CNN a pic of the PBB as they showed a speedboat and I recognise PBB from the bright orange brick tiles.
Did you know that from waves 3- 6 there was someone in that boat, being battered about but luckily was not thrown out.
Anyway, Merry Xmas and Happy New Year.

Mark Brandon
Aged 38

My Tsunami Experience

I arrived at Phuket International Airport directly from Taipei, the evening of December 24th, 2004. I was traveling with fellow dive buddy, Jason Beech with another of our gang Rick Everett, joining us the next day. The three of us were booked on a one-week diving cruise around the Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea, from December 26 – Jan 2.

We checked into the Patong Beach Bungalow, a small resort named as such, for its beachfront styled bungalows and the fact that it was on the main beach road. I had stayed there the last two times I was in Phuket and I enjoyed its convenient location.

After checking-in and dumping our gear, we went out to celebrate Christmas eve around the Soi Bangla area; pool games, drinks, dinner, a few for the road, then a few more for the road and, basically, Merry Xmas everyone. Saturday was just a lazy day for me. I spent my time on the beach, had a good green chicken curry lunch, not quite the turkey roast, but delicious all the same. Rick checked in around 4pm and we all met up at the Savoey restaurant at 7pm for a lovely lobster thermidor with a Thai salad and some nicely chilled chardonnay.

I think it was around 8am when the earthquake struck. Having just come from Taiwan, where earthquakes occur regularly, this quake was rather a surprise, especially as there are no plate lines around Thailand. So wherever it came from, I knew it was a big one. The whole bungalow shook for a good 30 seconds and this was at ground floor level. I went back to sleep and got up around 9am. Coffee was on my mind, as it is most mornings, and I gave the earthquake no more thought. I got changed into my T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops; picked up my phone, wallet and sunglasses and headed to the resort’s beach restaurant.

I finished breakfast around 9:30am and then went to the reception to check my e-mail. The thought had occurred to me to have a quick swim and wake up a bit, but I didn’t want to go back to the room to get changed; there would be all day to swim, or so I thought.

Behind the main reception desk (which later proved to be a factor in saving one of my friend’s life), a few computers were available for checking e-mail. Luckily, I didn’t have much e-mail and was finished in about 15 minutes. As I got up from the computer desk, I was wondering what to do when I saw people screaming and running past the glass reception doors toward the main beach road (the main road is about 5 meters from the reception area). Someone opened the glass reception door and I stepped out. Immediately, I saw water everywhere. This was, as I understand it now, the first wave and the only warning of what was about to come.

I looked to the left and saw behind what it was from which people were running. It was a massive wave of gray foam moving up in between the bungalows with devastating power and speed. In its wake was a lot of debris and I estimated the wave to be around 3 – 4 meters high. It wasn’t so much the height of the wave, but its crushing power and speed that I remember more vividly; anyway, I didn’t stop to look. I knew immediately what it was and turned to run in the opposite direction, diagonally across the road and up an alley, oblivious to any traffic, as fast as I could, loosing my flip-flops along the way. The alley came to a dead end. There were a few trees around and a small wall, which I thought of climbing over; but the water, up to my thighs at this time, didn’t seem to be getting any higher and had started to recede slightly, so I stayed where I was. I reckon I was about 50 meters inland from the hotel reception area. It was then that I heard the first screams from someone whose child had just fallen through the roof of a small building they had climbed for safety. They were unreachable from where I was standing, but I saw others coming in aid.

The water, from where I stood, was completely black in color. It was hard to believe that this was a tidal wave or tsunami; it was more like all the underground sewage systems had exploded. People were standing around on top of cars, buildings or, like me, out in the open yard wondering what had just happened. I said I thought it was a tidal wave, most probably as a result of the earthquake.

I was concerned for my two mates, Rick and Jason, as I thought they were still sleeping; so, I decided to go back to the hotel. As I walked, I had to be very careful where I placed my feet, as I couldn’t see where I was stepping. I did, on a few occasions, use my hands to clamber over some debris and then slowly slide down on my behind. When I got to the main road I couldn’t believe what I saw. Everything was smashed to pieces; cars were overturned and on top of each other; and shops were completely gutted. The water started getting deeper again as I crossed the main road. It was then that I saw Rick, alive but with lots of cuts all around his legs. We exchanged a few words and I asked if he had seen Jason. Jason’s bungalow was next to mine, but opposite to Rick’s. Rick hadn’t seen him so I went back into the hotel complex. Once inside, and past the reception, again, I couldn’t believe what I saw. All the bungalows, except a few at the back (back being furthest from the beach) were gone; debris was piled up everywhere; all our bungalows and possessions were no more. All sorts of debris, broken furniture, glass, gas canisters, deck chairs, a jet ski, twisted steel, and people’s possessions were everywhere. As I walked past a standing bungalow, about five meters in from the reception area, I saw an elderly chap standing outside, with cuts so deep on his legs that his bone was visible in various parts. He was conscious but in shock. We exchanged a few words of comfort and I left to try to get back to my bungalow.

I realized a few seconds later that getting to my bungalow was going to be next to impossible; there was just too much debris everywhere. It was then that I heard a massive thundering sound and turned in horror, to see once again, another monster of a wave coming in. It was already in the hotel complex, about 20 meters away from where I stood. This wave looked much more menacing (if at all possible) than the earlier one I saw and was completely black in color, as it was no doubt, throwing back in all the dirty water and debris that had receded with the previous waves. This was to be the start of the second set of waves.

From where I stood this time, there was little shelter in front of me and I could not attempt to run back out of reception to the main road. There would not be time; besides, the main road is not where you want to be as the water comes in. Its destructive power will just pick you up and slam you into a wall of debris where shops once stood.

This was my time. Next to me stood a standing bungalow and a large plant. I jumped onto the plant (in a hug like sort of embrace) and scrambled up as high as I could go. The plant started to bend with my momentum carrying me towards the bungalow roof where I got my hands and arms atop of the roof tiles. Pushing off from the plant with my legs, I managed to get half my body on top of the diagonally shaped roof and then crawl up to the top. It seemed to take all my strength to get to the top and I remember a strong feeling come over me that if I didn’t make it to the top I was going to die. It all happened so fast. While I was crawling up, the bungalow was already shaking back and forth, as the water and debris smashed in.

Once on top of the bungalow, I had a very clear and unobstructed view of the next two waves to come. I was aware to lie down in order to disperse my bodyweight the best way possible, the thought of falling through the roof was a very real and horrible thought. It was also then that I saw Jason, about 50 meters behind me, on top of a solid high-rise structure. Through a bit of shouting and hand signals, we exchanged greetings and signaled that we were both OK.

As I lay there looking out, I could see the water receding again and taking out debris very fast. To the left of me, I could also see a speedboat; this was later confirmed to have been the boat outside Rick’s bungalow. Someone had taken refuge in the boat. He must have a story to tell.

I could see no other threatening wave, but then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a wave just to the left of me rise up about 9 meters and dump a lot of water everywhere. It look incredibly menacing and I remember thinking that this was it, but then the wave crumbled and the rush of the water did not have the driving power of the other waves. I saw the wounded chap down below; three other people had joined him; and they were all clinging to some structural part of their bungalow. I saw that they were OK after that last wave, which I think was the fifth one. But within 30 seconds, I saw another wave rolling in. At first, it didn’t look to be as bad as the one that just came and I shouted to the guys below to hang on. What I didn’t realize is that the volume of water and power of this one was to surpass the previous wave immensely. The water rushed up against the people below; first to their waists, then to their chests and then up to their necks. This was to be the last time I saw them; once the water went above their heads, I can only imagine the horror they must have endured. Unable to breath in the dirty black water, with debris no doubt smashing into them, they would have lost their grip and washed away into the main road area.

As I lay there looking out, after what seemed about half an hour since the waves subsided, the ocean still was in a very mean and ugly mood. The tide would still recede a long way and then rise up swiftly. Waves were still rolling in but they seemed to be turning 90 degrees inwards and smashing into themselves. The debris was still being pulled out and then pushed back in, but it seemed to be dispersing over a much wider area. A helicopter was moving up and down the beach line filming all the destruction.

I think it was about 11:30am when I decided to leave the bungalow and get to the more solid structure where Jason and Gail, a lady he had rescued, were sheltering. There was still a lot of water everywhere and I jumped down from the bungalow onto a door, luckily with no protruding nails. I couldn’t see anyone else around just then, but as I exited the complex and got onto the main road, there were other people walking through waist-deep water to get to a safer spot.

Then people on the roofs of buildings started screaming that another wave was coming. This was not true and was to be the first of many false alarms. However, at that time all I could do was run toward the staircase, wading through the water and picking up several scratches along the way, one of them being a deep gash under my big toe, I had run over some structural part of a shop, like a collapsed railing or beam that had a piece of glass embedded and sticking up that cut deeply into my toe.

I got to the building and up to the roof where I was happily reunited with Jason. He hadn’t seen Rick since I saw him last and we didn’t know if he was safe or not.

There were then rumors of another much larger wave on its way in and everyone was to evacuate the area. We all trundled down the staircase, helping people that were injured along the way. Once back on the main road, I fell down a manhole and the water went right above my head. I pulled myself out, thinking how horrible it would be to have been swept away into an underground drain. I saw a pair of shoes float by and quickly got them on my feet, as my right foot was bleeding quite a bit by then. The further inland we walked, the water and damage became less. As we got to dry land and walked toward the hospital, people were just waking up or going about their normal routine with no idea of the devastating events that had just happened and the unfolding catastrophe. We began to feel a bit safer and slowed down a bit, not that we could walk that fast anyway. I had a look at Jason’s leg and knew that one of his deep cuts would need quite a few stitches. Some kind soul came out of a house and gave Jason some antiseptic lotion, which he applied to his leg. I, too, applied some to my foot and we both couldn’t help but scream, as the sting of the pain hit our nerves, but then subsided quickly. Someone gave me a packet of cigarettes that I lavishly ripped open and chain-smoked my way to the hospital.

The hospital was a mess; injured and dead bodies were coming in fast. The whole floor was literally covered with blood as, yet, more cars arrived carrying the injured and dead. People were screaming for their missing loved ones while others screamed out in pain. The local hospital staff was incredible and all of them, plus one European doctor, were so overwhelmed by the drama unfolding, but yet they really maintained their posture and went about helping people in order of prioritized injuries. I will never forget that.

As if by a miracle, while we sat waiting our turn to get treatment, we literally sat next to someone else waiting patiently for his turn, it was Rick. We couldn’t believe it and we all shook hands, relieved to be alive and back together.

We were all treated at the hospital and the next day, made our way to our respective embassies, which had set-up a makeshift camp at the Phuket Town Hall. To get new passports, we needed to get ourselves to Bangkok, which we were able to do, courtesy of the Thai Government laying on free and additional flights. From there, we got our passports the next day and, within 24 hours of that, we were at the airport awaiting our flight home.

Mark Brandon.

SURVIVOR: Alan de Roer and Aurelie Ferrant

Posted By aureliederoer(18/09/2006 15:28:00)

My boyfriend, Alan de Roer and myself Aurélie Ferrant have just returned from our trip to Thailand. Leaving Port Elizabeth on 15 December 2005 it all started off bad. Our flight (SAA) was delayed…. We were delayed by 30 min in Port Elizabeth and then again…. In Johannesburg we had to wait 5 hours because the air-conditioning had failed on the flight (Cathay Pacific), what made it worse is that they kept us all on board not even giving us water. It was boiling hot inside. After about 3 hours of people arguing and making a fuss they bought water, but the people were still upset and making a fuss they eventually let us off the plane back into the main building, but not saying anything to anyone. Now everyone wondering around the airport terminal, somehow we saw that we must board again on the screen, but no announcements were made, so obviously the plane was delayed more, cause they were looking for all people to get the back on the plane. Eventually… Taking off towards Hong Kong. Then things went on well, it was stunning all the Christmas decorations and everyone having a good spirit, stayed there for about 5 days traveling around the area. Then off to Bangkok, Thailand. Our idea was to spend Christmas on Phuket Island and New Years on Phi Phi Island. Seen as it’s our second time in 1 year going to Thailand we knew all the tricks and knew where to go and how to get around without been caught with the thai scam. The same day arriving in Bangkok we decided to fly on to Phuket Island. Luckily we knew where to go and asked the driver to take us straight to Patong Beach. Somehow by co-incidence we stayed in the same hotel (The Royal Palm Resotel) as the last time we were there. It’s right on the beach front in the middle of Patong Beach. We were both pretty tired from all the traveling so far and took it very easy. Slept late and just did the odd shopping along the beach front. We planned to rent a car and drive around the island, but never got around to it. Then on 25 December 2004 we had a lovely Christmas dinner at the hotel restaurant. We were discussing what we would do the next day. Seen as we wanted to catch up on our tan we planned to spend the day on the beach and rent a jeep the following day. And then move on to Phi Phi Island to spend New Years.


The following morning 26 December 2005 we both woke up at 8:00am cause it felt like the bed was moving, Alan asked me to stop moving the bed and I thought it was him, but little did we know it was an earthquake. Alan walked to the bathroom and saw how the door was moving and felt the ground move, he then filled up a glass of water and put it on a table to show me that there’s something strange going on, but still not knowing really what it was we fell asleep again, cause we had a late night. Alan was very tempted to go for a jog, cause the weather seemed so good. 2 hours later at 10am I got woken up from screams in the street, we both just thought it’s typical of Thailand cause they always celebrating something. When I tried to look I just saw heads of people running down, but then moving right onto the balcony and looked properly I just saw water coming down the street. At first I thought it was just a freak flood, but was strange cause there was not a cloud in the sky. Then I thought some big pipe must of burst in the street. When I looked down the street I realized the whole ocean is all the way up the street with cars and scooters been swept up and people running for their life. That’s when we both panicked abit. People in the hotel were shouting for everyone to run upstairs. Grabbing the camera and video camcorder, we ran up the stairs with all the other people rushing up. Once upstairs on the roof we could see what had happened. There was water all over. Cars hooters were stuck so there was this non-stop noise. People screaming for help. People clinging onto trees for dear life. People cut open from glass and debris lying around. At that time we still were not sure what had happened or caused all of this. We tried to ask the local thai people if they had this before and they hadn’t a clue themselves what was happening. I heard someone then say to his wife in german that they saw a big wave come and said that it seemed like it was not going to break like a normal wave. That’s when all the people started running and screaming. All the people on the roof were so edgy and agitated, no one knew where to stand or what to do. We wanted to help the people that were hurt down at the bottom, but were so worried cause there was just so much water everywhere. There was so much noise of all sorts. All the power and phone lines were cut so we couldn’t find help or find out what the problem is, what is happening. On all the roofs around us there were people crying, screaming for their kids, brother, sisters, husbands, wives, families. Some were still struggling to get onto roofs. A young couple struggled, but managed to help each other to get onto a roof. There were Thai guys that had climbed up trees, holding onto gutters and whatever else there was around them. A lady came up onto our roof, crying cause she has lost her husband whilst running, we tried to keep her calm and helping her with her cuts she got. There were so many helpful people on our roof. A lot of them helped calm down a lot of us. A Swedish man made a lot of us stress, when he wanted to start jumping from one roof to another to get away he kept saying it’s never going to stop, we must just run for our lives. There was just so much stress and worry all around us. Alan just told me to ignore them and we do our own thing.

There were some very small waves after the first one, but nothing major, so a lot of people thought it was all over and went downstairs to take a look around. But, little did they know that more waves were coming. Exactly 1 hour after the first wave another wave had come through. The water was pulled back and the whole beach was uncovered. You could see cars and rubble where the water was pulling back. This time apparently slightly bigger seen as we missed the first wave and more powerful. At this time you think is this it, is this the end your life, will this ever stop. Thinking of how family and friends must feel and probably watching all of this on TV not knowing if we still alive. Dying to phone them to let them know we fine, but just cant. But then again still not sure if we will be fine. We tried to get the attention of the people that were below to warn them another wave is coming, but not all of them could heard us, cause so much noise was around. A tourist man could not get away on time and just held onto a tree for dear life. The wave came towards him and he just held on. The water then pulled back again, but he somehow managed to hold on the tree and survived. He managed to walk away with arms cut open. Then some more smaller waves again, some were slightly more powerful than the first time round. We saw bodies float by along with cars, jet skies and a whole lot of clothing, souvenirs, beach chairs and whatever else that was in the waves way. Then it got all quite again. And again people went down to take a look thinking it was all over….

The lady that thought she lost her husband some how by co-incidence arrived on our roof, she felt to relieved. He was lucky he didn’t have a scratch on him, he was on the building next door, but just couldn’t get to her. The whole time we didn’t know what to do, cause a lot of people managed to work their way up, but we didn’t want take a chance been swept away or loose our luggage. Especially the power the water had, it picked up cars, bakkies, taxis, scooters etc. Anything that was in its way. While waiting for things to settle we watched down on the local thai’s trying to save as much of their things as they can that was still in their shops. They’d run up and down the road with crates. At the same time some foreigners were stealing things, it was unbelievable, they were searching through peoples wallets, bags, jackets, etc to steal money. We even saw them with passports and they just threw it back into the water. It was really disappointing to see this after all we’ve just been through. Instead of rather helping they just made people more upset. Things seemed to have calmed down, but then again….

The water pulled back so far it was unbelievable. There was a cruise ship that we just saw lift up and disappear in the wave and then we really thought this is it, this waves seems way too big. Everyone panicked, we felt ice cold and empty inside. We were screaming at the people downstairs to run up. Some didn’t hear us. The ones stealing somehow heard us, which we wished they didn't, cause they threw away so many valuable information that people could of used to find people. The third wave came rolling in so fast. We all moved towards the back of the hotel scared the building would collapse. By this time the feelings and thoughts going through your mind is unbearable. Feeling sick inside from all the shock. Not knowing if u must run away. A helicopter was circling above us, we all tried to get their attention, but they carried on to the other beaches. It came back a few times, we were hoping they would give us some information on what to do, but they just flew on again. The 2 of us were luckily there to support each other. Just holding each other we watched how the wave rushed through the side street, just destroying everything in its way that was still left behind from the last wave. The force of that last wave was just unbelievable. Watching other buildings collapse. It just damaged everything around. We were just waiting for something to go wrong with the hotel. Knowing that its just a few pillars holding us up here. Luckily nothing happened. We waited another 3 hours for the water to disappear. So, after 6 hours of waiting, stressing, worrying and feeling so nauseous it was over. It became so silent the hooters had stopped the people stopped screaming, it was the strangest silence anyone could hear. Eventually the ocean was so still that we went downstairs to take a look what had all been done. It was shocking how a wave can damage so much. There were speed boats split in 2. Boats were all over on the main beach road. Cars were smashed into building. In our hotels restaurant and reception area there were about 6 cars some even upside down. In one of the taxi’s you could see someone’s foot, but too scared to help or look any longer. Some of the walls had been broken down from the force of cars smashing into. The fire brigade, police and ambulances were all over helping. There were people waiting on the side of the road hoping to still find husbands, wives, kids or any family member. There were still so many frightened people, when one person shouted we all ran again for our lives, but nothing had happened, there was just panic everywhere. After taking a few pictures we were told to move up. We grabbed our backpacks and walked for about 600m up the road through all the rubble and debris to another hotel. There we checked in, luckily getting the last room available. Only really then did we have a chance to watch the news. We saw how everything all over India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and other place in Thailand were damaged. Also only then did we know it was a tsunami caused by the earthquake. We were running up and down the whole time trying to find out what was happening. We didn’t know when to leave the island, where it was safe to stay. We walked around the street to hear and see what other people were doing.

We tried to phone our families, but they never had international lines available. We were both so desperate to let our family know we were fine. We stayed around that hotel the whole time, cause too many people kept screaming from panic. We tried to get food at a nearby restaurant, but they could only give us rice. We hadn’t eaten for 24 hrs and barely drank anything. The airport was closed and the only road off the island, which is a bridge was apparently chaos with traffic and people trying to cross. And still not knowing if that bridge wasn't damaged. A taxi driver arrived at the hotel to pick up people, but those people were just not anywhere around, luckily we were the only people there, but the driver could not speak English. We got the lady at the hotel reception to translate for us. She managed to get the taxi driver to take us to the airport. We had exactly on the dot the money for the taxi. We couldn’t use the ATM’s either cause of no power. On the way to the airport we tried to look at all the damage been done, but couldn’t see much in the dark. But there were people all over on the top of the hills. All the taxis and locals were too scared to go down to the towns. After an hour drive we got to the airport and found it full of people crying and screaming again. Some were badly hurt too. We thought we’d never get a flight out, but by luck we booked a ticket and got onto a flight straight away. There was no waiting. Bangkok airways had organized to bring in extra flights. We eventually arrived in Bangkok at 1am. Then looked for a hotel for the night. The airport was busy with people waiting for family and friends. Also immigration from various countries were there to help. We were hoping for help from South Africa, but didn’t see anything. The flights leaving to go to Phuket were just doctors, nurses and whomever to help out. We found a hotel not too far from the airport, but couldn’t sleep. The first thing we did was phone our parents. They were so relieved. All they could tell us is how much they love us. My younger brother, Jeremy and Alan’s mom, Magda apparently went all out in South Africa to try and find out if we were still alive, but no one could help them. They had phoned the SA embassy office to see if they could trace us if we still alive and they said they could do nothing to help. They were so worried and feeling sick. Jeremy got hold of someone in Pretoria and they offered him a free flight out to Thailand to see if he could find our bodies. When we managed to phone him he just cried from relief. The first thing he said to me is I love you guys so much. After a few days the American embassy contact Magda to let her know that we were fine, she was shocked that she had to wait so long to know we were fine, even though we had already contacted her.

The following morning we booked a flight to Koh Samui. Another island but on the other side of Thailand’s mainland where no damage was done. We spend then 3 weeks there to try to relax and re-organize our minds, of all the things we saw and experienced. But somehow supporting each other we managed to enjoy the rest of our holiday and had a wonderful New Years celebration.

1 Year Later

After having experienced such a scary and dramatic thing, we knew it was destiny. We got engaged on 16 April 2005. And got married on 2 July 2005. During the year we traveled to Belgium to see family, whom were so happy to see us. It is so amazing to see how many people cared and worried for us. Even people that we have never met. We got engaged on the flight back home, so somewhere over Spain we say. It was just so different yet so romantic.
Then for our December holiday we were not sure what to do. Finances were not enough to travel, but when we heard that there’ll be a memorial for 1 year of tsunami we made a plan. On 15 December 2005, same date as last time. We decided to go back. After all the nightmares we thought it would do us good. My younger brother, Jeremy and older Brother, Christophe joined our adventure. We all met up in Bangkok where we spent a few days shopping and exploring. Then off we went back to Phuket. It was still a little worrying, but yet exciting to see all the changes. When we arrived at the airport there were banners and advertising everywhere for the 1 year memorial. Our bodies felt ice cold from remembering everything we experienced last year. And remembering what mad-house the airport was then, compare to how quite it was now. We find a taxi to take us to the same hotel (The Royal Palm Resotel). We were hoping to stay there again, but they were unfortunately fully-booked. When we walked in, it was the most bizarre feeling ever, feeling cold and sick, just remembering how the hotel looked last year. The hotel had totally changed, so much more modern. There were photos up on display of the tsunami. It was just the weirdest feeling walking through the foyer and restaurant remembering the cars and rubble that laid there before.

Jeremy and myself waited then on the side of the road, while Alan and Christophe looked for another place to stay. While waiting I tried to explain Jeremy how everything has changed. We could still see a lot work been done along the beach road. The pavements were all been re-done. You could still clearly see the damage that was done. The palm trees had markings on too of the boats and cars that had hit them. Also sitting there, it was late evening and couldn’t see the beach, there were so many odd thoughts of the whole experience going through my mind, thinking what if…. but like everyone told me, what are the chances it will happen again on the same day or around the same time. Eventually Alan and Christophe returned. Everything was fully booked, which I couldn’t believe cause it seemed like so little people walking around. But they did find something. It was a hotel that was also damaged by the tsunami, but they haven’t opened their doors to public yet, cause they are still busy with renovation. But we told the gentleman that we will take a room. The only things not working was the lift, TV, telephone and the water always had problems with hot and cold. But that didn’t worry us, we just wanted to be there to join the memorial day. We celebrate Christmas at a really nice restaurant nearby our old hotel. There were a lot more people than when we arrived. We were already in Phuket for about 4 days by now. We had traveled around the island quite abit, renting a jeep. We even followed all the boards where they’d have a memorial celebration. Therefore traveling a big distance up north. We visited all the beaches that were damaged. It was really hard to see all this, but knowing it’s a good thing to come out our system. One of the areas they had set up for tourist to write a messages on big boards for their own country. We all decided to write a message on the South African and Belgium board. It made us feel good to write a message too on behalf of all others whom could not be there. The most touristic places have been fixed and are up and running. The quieter place where most locals live are still very much run down or totally abandoned. Many local thai’s are afraid to be near the coast now, a lot of them have moved inland or up the mountains. Koa Lak which had the most damage was still a mess. We drove through the town and it felt like a ghost town. There are still some cars that are damaged against trees. Most of the palm trees and coconut trees are destroyed. There are still hotels, houses, restaurants and shops that are totally abandoned and destroyed. We had a small lunch in one of the restaurants further up in the main street and the people were so happy and friendly to see us. U had that feeling that they were desperate for tourists. There was a sign up against a pillar which was about 600m away from the beach which said that the water was up to 3.2m high. Just shows how hard they were hit.

Two days later we walked to where the memorial was held on Patong Beach, Phuket. It was really hard to see the people crying and just thinking of how lucky we are to have survived. The feelings inside was sad, yet calming. We lay flowers down whilst remembering that day in our thoughts. Alan and I were just holding each other tight and thanking our lucky stars that we are survivors. Walking back to the beach to cool down from the hot weather, there were hundreds of people on the beach laying down flowers and messages. Some people were really taking it hard, but there’s nothing we can do to make them feel better. That evening there were all Chinese lanterns that were lit. The whole sky was just lights, the most beautiful thing to see. Alan and I also lit one which gave a feeling of relief. Letting go of the past and moving on with our future. We watched out little lantern for a few minutes till it disappeared into the darkness.

The next day we could feel the people are all more alive. U could sense that everyone had let go and decided to move on with their lives. So many people just had to say goodbye to their loved ones. We then decided to take a boat trip to Phi Phi island which we could not do last year due to this tsunami. Coming around the corner heading towards the pier is was just so different. We could see all the way to the other side of the beach. All the trees were gone and destroyed. So many buildings missing. It was really sad to see that they just don’t have to money to fix the island up. So much still needs to be done. The thai’s are begging for money there. When u want to buy something, they beg and plead that u feel so bad and don’t want to bargain like you’d normally do. They would accept any price you’d ask as well. The island has become more for younger crowd too. There were not many families there, it was more students. Accommodation was hard to find. Most hotels are not up and running yet either. From Phi Phi Island we headed off to Koh Samui, the island on the other side of Thailand’s mainland.

We were so happy to have gone back to see that people are moving on even though it was something really hard to face. Having shared the ceremony with all the thousands of others made u feel so good. From doing this trip too, our nightmares have stopped. Feels like we’ve been through therapy by doing this. Our thoughts are with everyone that was there that day and for all those ones that lost family and friends. We just want to thank all those who were with us that day to help us be SURVIVORS.

Monday, December 25, 2006

SURVIVOR: Dorothy Wilkinson

DOROTHY WILKINSON and her partner Tom were visiting Tom’s 58 year old parents who had moved to Thailand. They decided to visit the island of Khao Lak. Dorothy’s partner and his parents were washed away. Dorothy snapped her coccyx, crushed three vertebrae, almost severed her left arm at the elbow where there was a hole the size of a tennis ball, and her head was so badly gashed that her skull was exposed. She thought she was going to die. But with the help of others – she survived. Read various accounts of her story below.

2 years on, grieving tsunami survivors return to Thailand to remember the dead
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
KHAO LAK, Thailand

Two years after a tsunami killed her fiance and his parents, British national Dorothy Wilkinson still has a hard time going near the sea and cries when talking of that fateful day.

But like scores of other survivors, Wilkinson, from Surrey, England, has come back to the same beaches where the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami struck to pay respects to the thousands who died and take another tentative step to rebuilding her own life.

"This is a time to remember those people whom we lost," said Wilkinson, who attended a morning memorial service for tsunami victims in Khao Lak and planned to lay flowers on the beach where her fiance died. "I'm still sad. I don't want to spend Christmas at home. It is too lonely."

About 300 foreign and Thai tsunami survivors joined a ceremony to pay tribute to the victims, observing a minute of silence while Thai police laid flowers and incense on a boat that was washed ashore by the massive waves.

Sharon Howard, a British tourist who lost her fiancee and two children in the disaster and attended the ceremony, said being there made her "very sad, very sad."

"I miss them. They were my life," she said, as tears poured down her cheeks. "I wish I could turn back time and they could all come back."

Similar ceremonies were held on at least two other Thai beaches hard hit by the disaster, including Phuket's Patong beach, where 99 monks chanted for the victims, and dozens of relatives of the dead laid flowers in the sand.

A sign on Patong beach simply read: "Remembering our friends, Dec. 26, 2004."
Thai officials also used the ceremony to reassure survivors they were putting measures in place — including a tsunami warning system — to prevent future disasters.

"The Thai government will try to do everything it can to prevent the loss of lives and any serious damage as we experienced two years ago," Sakthip Krairerk, a senior official in the tourism and sports ministry, told the crowd.

Authorities also planned to open a cemetery for hundreds of unidentified tsunami victims later in the day.

The tsunami killed 8,212 people in Thailand, including foreigners vacationing at five-star resorts and local residents who mostly lived in fishing communities that line the Andaman coast.
Some 230,000 people in a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean rim were killed or missing and presumed dead in the disaster.

Wilkinson said she is still struggling to cope with the loss or her relatives and understand why she was the only one to survive. On her trip to Thailand this year, she said she wants to give back something to the country and will spend time teaching English to Thai children.
"It is, perhaps, my way of making myself feel like a better person," she said.

For many Thai survivors, the recovery process has been just as difficult. Along with grieving for loved ones, many have had to rebuild homes washed away in the waves as well as shops and other businesses lost in the disaster.

"If I could die in their place, I would do it," said Beehong Nawalong, a 76-year-old food vendor who brought photographs to the Khao Lak ceremony of her daughter and four grandchildren who died in the tsunami. She also lost her home in the disaster.

"I still can't come to terms with it. I cry almost every night," she said, adding that the body of one granddaughter remains missing.

Evening Standard (London), Jan 10, 2005 by LECH MINTOWT-CZYZ

Many Britions who went to the region to search for missing friends and relatives have reported Foreign Office staff were " unhelpful", "lacking knowledge" and "incompetent".
So far 50 Britons have been confirmed dead and a further 391 are thought highly likely to have been killed. As many as 2,000 others are still unaccounted for.

At least 150,000 people are now known to have died in the disaster.

With the official British death toll expected to rise today one London man told how his sister, brother-inlaw and nephew were all swept to their deaths.

Michael Pitt's sister and her husband, Colin and Carole Fairbairn, both 58 and expatriates who had settled in Thailand, were being visited by their son Tom, 25 and his partner Dorothy Wilkinson.

The group had decided to pay a visit to the idyllic beach at Khao Lak when they were caught in the tragedy. Miss Wilkinson, 34, managed to climb up a tree and survived with cuts and bruises but saw the rest of her party engulfed by the water.

In a heartbreaking phone call from her hospital bed she told Mr Pitt how the horror unfolded.
He said: "Dorothy said her last memories are of the sea going out, Tom going down to the water's edge, and of running up the beach with Colin, and with Carole and Tom running behind. She got up a tree but they did not."

Mr Pitt, 50, from Croydon, flew out to Khao Lak to search for his relatives but without success.
He added: "That was the first time I could weep. The chaos, the bodies that were buried there, you could smell them. They couldn't, all three of them, be lying unconscious in a Thai hospital. I understood that."

Mr Pitt told how he visited the room they had stayed in at the Orchid Beach resort.
"They had been staying at the main block and it was still standing, although everything around it was scattered and smashed," he said.

"Their room was wrecked. Water and sand had flowed through it.

There were no documents or valuables. I found a few pathetic personal belongings - Carole's glasses case, a novel she was reading by Rose Tremain, Colin's scuba mask and Tom's Christmas card to his parents thanking them for this wonderful holiday.

"I went down to the beach in order to spend some time alone, just sitting there. To people who want to come out and do this, even if you are experienced, I have to say it is very, very distressing. There is the smell of death, which once you smell it you can never forget."
Colin and Carole, from Walton-On-Thames, Surrey, had been enjoying their expat life in Bangkok, where Carole, a former headmistress, taught at Shrewsbury International School, a branch of the British public school.

For Tom's sake, I will finish the Marathon

Evening Standard (London), Apr 11, 2006 by DAVID COHEN

THE THAI doctor stood over a critically injured Dorothy Wilkinson and shouted at her above the din of the overcrowded Khao Lak hospital ward.

Having just survived the Boxing Day tsunami, she was delirious, barely conscious and temporarily deaf. All around, laid wall to wall on the floor, hundreds of people were screaming in agony. It was a scene of utter mayhem.

Then, like a whip cracking, she heard the doctor's dreaded words: "English girl! You've broken your back!"

At that moment, in excruciating pain and desperately scanning the ward for her missing partner, Tom Fairbairn, Dorothy could barely deal with news that she would never walk again.

Yet instantly she was stubbornly refusing the prognosis. "It's not broken!

I can feel my feet," she protested. But nobody heard her. Instead, with her temperature soaring, Dorothy was moved to a dark corner where she was expected to die from her horrific injuries. She had snapped her coccyx, crushed three vertebrae, almost severed her left arm at the elbow where there was a hole the size of a tennis ball, and her head was so badly gashed that her skull was exposed.

Fast-forward 16 months and Dorothy, 38, having tortuously found her way back to health after five lifesaving operations, is not only walking but in 12 days' time will line up for the 2006 Flora London Marathon. Ironically, she had been in training for last year's London Marathon on the very morning the tsunami struck, running for an hour along the beach at dawn, and although she had to miss last year's event she is in no doubt that her peak fitness helped save her life.
"When you are running a marathon, you learn to block out the pain and focus on what you have to do to cross the line. I instinctively got into that mode, lying in the hospital with no pain relief and desperate for morphine."

This will be her fifth London Marathon but none will be more poignant. For in the journey from her tsunami deathbed to the massed ranks of the Greenwich Park starting-grid lies a story of extraordinary courage, miraculous intervention, and sheer bloody- minded determination.
Her red running vest, printed with the words "in memory of Tom, Colin and Carole", hints at the tragedy she has suffered. For Tom, 25, a mechanical engineer and the man she expected to share her life with, and his parents, Colin and Carole, whom she also adored, were all killed when the 40ft tsunami smashed into the beach on which they were sunbathing. Of the four, only Dorothy, who worked as a gym instructor at her local Surrey fitness centre, survived.

"I returned from Thailand a broken, heartbroken woman, my future washed away in that wave, along with my lovely Tom," Dorothy says at her semi-detached house in Surrey. She tries to hold back her tears as she describes what she has been through, tenderly cradling her heavily scarred forearm, which feels "as hypersensitive as an exposed tooth nerve", and which she attempts to protect with a fitted-Lycra sleeve support.

"I started running after the funerals of Tom and his parents in April last year.

At first I could only run around the block. For months, I struggled to find the will to live, let alone run, yet at the same time it felt like an emotional release to slip on my running shoes.
Slowly, I have built up my strength. I am determined to find the strength to run for Tom and his parents.

Dorothy has another compelling reason to push through the pain barrier. She wants to give back, she says, by raising funds for two charities: the Red Cross, who have supported her throughout her fragile recovery; and the Gentlemans Night Out (GNO) charity which raises funds for good causes such as the terminally ill, and whose intervention almost certainly saved her life.

"It was the fourth day after the tsunami," recalls Dorothy, "and I was hovering between life and death, when suddenly I looked up and saw a beautiful blonde-haired, English-speaking lady who I thought must be an angel. Her name was Kathy Kaplan and she held my hand and in a calm voice told me: 'Don't worry, we are here to help you.' It was such a relief to hear English that for a moment I thought I must be in heaven.

But then I saw the Thai surgeons who moments earlier had been pointing to the pus-filled hole in my arm, and I started shouting hysterically: 'They're going to cut off my arm!' "Kathy immediately found a translator who assured me that although the arm was highly infected, they were not going to amputate it. Next thing, her husband, Arnie, the president of the GNO charity, was by my side and I could hear him instructing the doctors: 'You've got to get her on the next military plane to Bangkok. If she stays here, she will die.'"

Kathy and Arnie, who were on holiday in Thailand, had gone to the hospital with a friend to give blood. "Suddenly, because I had people advocating for me, I became a priority, and within hours I was being wheeled into Bangkok's BNH Hospital," says Dorothy. "They gave me the drugs and operations that saved my life."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Future Tsunami in next 30 years will kill 60,000

If we, as humans, know that 60,000 to 900,000 people could die in the next 2-30 years in a second - almost certain to come tsunami - would we do more to protect those lives? It seems we do know this. Yet - how much will this knowledge change people's minds on where to live - and how to prepare? News from AP:

Scientists predict future tsunami
December 25, 2006

PADANG, Indonesia (AP) -- Two years after an earthquake off western Indonesia unleashed a monster tsunami, scientists expect the same fault to rupture again within the next few decades -- and this town stands to take the full force of the waves.

They predict a large swath of Sumatra island's densely populated coast just south of the tsunami-hit area will be pounded by a giant wall of water.

"All this area in red will disappear," Padang Mayor Fauzi Bahar said, pointing at a satellite map on his office wall showing the likely reach of the waves into the town.
The low-lying town of 900,000 people has started mapping out evacuation routes and educating the public, but all the same, authorities fear up to 60,000 will die, unable to outrun the waves even if they get a speedy warning and flee.

"The people will be washed away," Bahar said.

On the morning of December 26, 2004, the most powerful earthquake in four decades lifted the seabed west of Sumatra by several yards, propelling waves up to two stories high at jetliner speeds across the Indian Ocean to smash into coastal communities, beach resorts and towns in 12 nations.

In hardest-hit Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India, the waves surged miles inland, tossing ships, swallowing entire villages and leaving behind a blasted landscape of concrete foundations and rubble littered with tens of thousands of bodies.

On Sumatra island -- home to more than half the tsunami's nearly 230,000 dead and missing -- volunteers and emergency workers took three months to recover all the corpses and bury them in mass graves.

Warnings of another tsunami-spawning quake are adding urgency to efforts to establish a warning system covering the Indian Ocean rim like the network of high-tech buoys in the Pacific that alerts Japan, the United States and other nations of sudden tidal changes.

The worst-affected countries have begun installing sirens on threatened coasts and three buoys with sensors capable of detecting waves generated by seismic activity are in the water, but the network is several years from completion, officials say.

Making sure the system works from end-to-end is a "daunting task," said Curt Barrett at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is helping set it up.
"Once the warning goes out, people have to know what to do," he said. "All of this information is useless if it doesn't get to the person down on the beach."

The warnings of another tsunami are based on more than a decade of research by respected U.S. geologist Kerry Sieh and a team of scientists on a section of the fault just south of the part that ruptured in 2004.

His conclusions are shared by scientists at other universities and government research institutions.

230-year pattern

The fault, which runs the length of the west coast of Sumatra about 125 miles offshore, is the meeting point of the Eurasian and Pacific tectonic plates that have been pushing against each other for millions of years, causing huge stresses to build up.

Using historical accounts of earlier quakes, measurements of coral uplift and data from a network of Global Positioning System transmitters on nearby islands, Sieh, from the California Institute of Technology, has found a pattern of large earthquakes about every 230 years, with the last major ones in 1797 and in 1833.

The 2004 jolt, as well as another strong quake on the same fault three months later that killed 1,000 people on nearby Nias island, has loaded even more stress, Sieh said.
"We are not saying the quake is going to happen tomorrow or next week, but on the other hand we don't want people to forget about it and be lax," he said. "I'd be surprised if it were delayed much beyond 30 years."

A small non-governmental agency funded by foreign donors is spreading the message in Padang and surrounding districts. The group has met with hundreds of village heads and religious leaders and sends volunteers to schools along the threatened coast with a simple warning:
"If the quake lasts longer than a minute, knocks you to your feet or collapses buildings, run to the nearest hills," volunteer Riska told a class recently.

"If you can't make it, then climb a tree. Start learning now," she said, her voice hoarse from trying to hold the giggling children's attention.

The group says residents and local government officials are receptive to its message, especially since a second tsunami on Indonesia's main island of Java last July killed 600 people.
Coastal residents say land prices have fallen, a sign that people are moving inland.
But simply raising awareness isn't enough, experts say.

The tsunami will likely crash into the shore within 20 minutes because the fault line is so close, meaning the town must make expensive infrastructure changes to enable people to flee.
Evacuation roads need widening, and bridges crossing the town's many rivers need reinforcement. Some experts say tsunami-proof towers should be built in coastal areas and emergency services and government agencies moved inland.

Sieh says Indonesia would be better off spending more money on those projects and educating people than on installing and maintaining an expensive warning system of buoys.

"You have an earthquake and it lasts for five minutes. It is shaking so heavily you can't walk. Why do you need a warning? Haven't you got one already?" he asks. "It is not just a waste of money, it is a distraction: It gives people a false sense of security."

Australian Chris Scurrah and his wife manage a small hotel in Padang's seaside colonial quarter and run a thriving business organizing surfing trips. After five good years, they have no plans to leave.

"It's an awesome place to be, but it's just scary it's going to get smashed," Scurrah said before setting out with a boatload of surfers. "That's just the way it works here."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It is one week away from the second anniversary of the Tsunami. Recently, a reporter contacted me to talk about the second anniversary. I wrote back and corrected her by saying it was the third year anniversary. But it really has only been two years. And I am wondering why it seems so much more long ago? Am I trying to forget about it and want to make it as far in the past as possible?

But it is indeed only 2 years ago. For many - the life and memories still live on. Recently, one person wrote to me, and told me that by reading the stories on this website, she was able to start to come to terms with her trauma. Yet others are running as fast away from the memories as possible.

For me - I will be returning to Thailand this year. I haven't decided if I will go to Phuket or take refuge in Bangkok. But I will take time to remember!


The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake--known by the scientific community as the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake--was an undersea earthquake that occurred at 7:58 a.m. (local time) December 26, 2004 with an epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The earthquake triggered a series of devastating tsunamis that spread throughout the Indian Ocean, killing large numbers of people and inundating coastal communities across South and Southeast Asia, including parts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

Magnitude: Magnitude 9 "megathrust"

Scale of slippage:
30 kilometres below the seafloor, a 1200 km stretch of the Indian plate was thrust up to 20 metres under the Burma plate, raising the seafloor by several metres.

Historical ranking:
The fourth largest since 1900 and the world's biggest since a magnitude 9.2 earthquake struck Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1964.

Epicentre locality:
250 km south-south-east of Banda Aceh, Indonesia and 1600 km north-west of Jakarta.

Energy released:
Equivalent to the explosion of 475,000 kilotons of TNT, or 23,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.

Height and speed of tsunamis:
In the open ocean, just 50 centimetres high but travelling at up to 800 km/h. However, the wave s grew and slowed as the sea shallowed towards coasts. Waves were up to 10 metres on the coastline of Sumatra near the epicentre, 4 metres in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Somalia. Distance waves travelled inland: Up to 2000 metres.

Number of countries damaged:
13, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, The Maldives and Somalia.

Date of last major tsunami in the Indian Ocean:

Disaster and humanitarian crisis statistics

Number of people killed:
Latest figures indicate at least 226,000 dead, including 166,000 in Indonesia, 38,000 in Sri Lanka, 16, 000 in India 5300 in Thailand and 5000 foreign tourists.

Number of people injured:
Over 500,000

Potential additional deaths from infectious diseases: 150,000

Number of people affected:
Up to 5 million people lost homes, or access to food and water.

Number of children affected:
Around a third of the dead are children, and 1.5 million have been wounded, displaced or lost families.

Number of people left without the means to make a living:
One million

Number of World Heritage Sites destroyed or damaged:
Five, including: the Old Town of Galle in Sri Lanka, the Tropical Rainforest of Sumatra in Indonesia and the Sun Temples of Konarak in India.

Estimated cost of tsunami early warning technology in Indian Ocean:
$20 million

Estimated cost of aid and reconstruction following tsunami:
$7.5 billion

Total international aid promised to Tsunami-ravaged nations:
$7 billion

Source: NewScientist.com

Sunday, December 10, 2006

SURVIVOR: Vernon Olson

Tsunami survivor finds pain, hope
Retiree returns to Thai island
By Jason Schwartz, Globe Correspondent
December 29, 2005

Among Vernon Olson's final assignments to his sixth-grade class at the Fessenden School in Newton was an article on the warning signs of a tsunami.

As he embarked on a three-month retirement trip to Southeast Asia last year, he could not have known how prophetic that lesson would be.

Olson, who lives in Lexington, was in Patong on Thailand's Phuket Island on Dec. 26, 2004, when the tsunami smashed into the resort town. Despite being knocked over and swallowed up by the waves, the 66-year-old escaped without serious injury.

This month, he returned to the same beach where he almost died. He has spent the past several weeks relaxing and surveying the mostly rebuilt town.

But despite the fresh appearance of the market where he buys his daily newspaper, he said he cannot forget that more than 40 people drowned in that spot a year ago.

Other areas, such as around his old hotel, are still strewn with debris.

It was there on a terrace that Olson's tsunami ordeal began. He was sipping his morning coffee, anticipating another beautiful day on the beach, when the hotel's night manager hurried by with a camera. The sea had risen higher than he had ever seen it, so the manager wanted to snap a picture. A half-dozen other guests stood with Olson, transfixed by the spectacle.
There was one problem, though: The water was rushing toward them. It was a tsunami, and there had been no warning signs.

''With no time to think or to try to understand what was happening, I ran into a small alleyway next to the building," Olson recalled.

When the water caught up with him, he was trapped between a small building and a three-story hotel.

Lifted up by the current, he clung to a beam beneath a second-story balcony until a wave ripped him from his ''umbilical line to life."

Thinking he was all but dead, Olson attempted to tread water, but was quickly pulled under. Then the lights went out.

Ten or 15 minutes later -- he has no way of knowing for sure -- he found himself on a field about 100 yards away from where he had lost consciousness.

Olson came to slowly, sitting for several minutes in ''numbed disbelief." His body was covered in bruises, but other than some aches, he felt fine.

Taking stock, he heard what sounded like soft crying a short distance off. Olson looked over to see a small boy with his arm cut open, bone and muscle exposed. Off in another direction, a couple huddled together in shock.

Olson managed to get up and help the boy, wrapping his wound in a small red undershirt he had found. Carrying the boy back to the hotel, Olson trudged past body after body. He recalls being surprised by how quickly the authorities had covered them up.
Olson gave the boy, whom he would never see again, to a hotel staff member and then departed for the journey inland.

Looking back, Olson said that he never panicked; rather, he thought of the irony that he used to own a beachfront house in Cotuit, yet in his 15 years there had never ventured into the ocean.
''I don't put myself in vulnerable situations in terms of the ocean, yet the ocean [was] getting me," he said.

Though he now looks at the sea with more caution, he refuses to let worries of another disaster spoil his vacation.

''Every future day of my life is a gift," he said. ''I should not have been alive after that happened. The person standing next to me in the stairs was killed."

Olson has always loved adventure. In 1977, he took a trip around the world, and just as the Gulf War was breaking in 1990, he decided to take a year off from Fessenden and spend it teaching in Egypt.

His family consists of just a younger brother, leaving him free to travel alone without a set agenda. A Minnesota native and longtime Massachusetts resident, Olson wants to be somewhere warm for wintertime.

''I just kind of bounce around from place to place, depending on the rainy season somewhat," he said.

Still, Patong was his first destination on this current trip, even though it is the rainy season. Olson reports that the town is again teeming with tourists, but the tsunami remains a constant presence. For example, the local paper a few weeks ago had a story about the discovery of a skeleton, presumed -- based on its size and characteristics -- to be European.

Olson said that he's been encouraged by small encounters. During his trip last year, he had noticed an old woman offering massages to beachgoers. A few weeks ago, he was heartened to see her again, walking the beach as though nothing had ever happened.