Tuesday, December 26, 2006

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.


At 3:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Touching story. I've been researching tht Tsunami for my drama exam, didn't realise how much it would touch me!

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what an amazing story. As others, i was deeply touched and read the whole lot crying. With an unmercyful chill, it gave me goosebumps.

Deeply touched by this, im visiting Phuket in January myself. xxx

At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Wilson said...

that was an amazing story. congratulations for surviving that tsunami!

At 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow you are trully a brave man! i loved your story so much that i actually used you as a survivor for my year 11 assignment. i passed! you are a true hero. congrats!

At 7:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow....amazing story.

At 5:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just have to say
You truly are a very lucky and amazing person.
You're story is a very touching one, and although I don't know you I'm glad your alive.

And by the way, you are a very good writer.

At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this story made me cry ..
im am so glad you aree alive and congrats for your friends aswell im only in year 8 and i am researching a story of survival and i ofund one which touched my heart

At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Similar to my story.
Phattrawan Schulz.


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