Tuesday, December 26, 2006

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.


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