I SAW MYSELF IN EVERY SCENE
I SAW MYSELF IN EVERY SCENE
A survivor reacts to “The Impossible”
By John Thompson
It's not very often a movie is made about an event that received worldwide attention in which you can picture yourself in every scene. The opening moments in The Impossible, of a family enjoying Christmas day at the Khao Lak Orchid hotel were especially meaningful to me, since I also spent that
The morning of December 26 I ate breakfast on an outdoor patio at my bungalow hotel, watching a British family with two young boys playing in the surf (the boys survived, but their parents would end up dying later that morning)." Despite the extraordinary special effects that went into recreating the tsunami, I didn't find that part especially frightening. I supposed when you have lived through the real thing, it just isn't possible to re-live it in a movie. Maybe it is because my experience was slightly different. I saw the wave coming, didn't recognize what it was, watching on the beach until it was almost too late. Then I started running away from the wave, with a group of people, on a street leading up from the beach. About a block up the street I saw there was no way I could outrun the wave, and darted into a strong looking hotel building. That split-second decision likely saved my life, and I wish I had called out to the other people running on the street to do the same, but almost no one did; they all kept running up the street.
That night, I and many other survivors camped out in the jungle on a hill top, hopefully above the reach of any further waves, although I do remember talking with people about the possibility of another wave could even reach our height. By morning, helicopters were buzzing our camp, although no relief help seemed to be in site on the ground, so I and another survivor started hiking up the highway towards the next village. We soon were given a ride to a bus station where we caught an overnight bus to Bangkok. A few days later, after getting a new passport, buying new clothes and other essentials, I flew back to Krabi on an American Air Force C-130, where I and a friend volunteered at a hospital. Later we rented a jeep and drove back to Khao Lak, where the devastation was still very fresh. Similar to the movie, we saw bodies piled in trucks, lined up on the side of the road, and stacks of coffins. The smell of decaying, rotting, bloated, water-logged flesh was overpowering, and not possible to convey in a movie. We looked at postings on bulletin boards of photos of bodies and lists of missing people.
The movie really captured the horrific time that survivors went through trying to locate family members with whom they had just hours before been enjoying an idyllic Christmas holiday. The randomness of why people survived versus those that didn't is hard to comprehend. Out of couples and families, it was unusual that all members of the family made it through alive. As for me, I am forever thankful that I ended up on the side of randomness of those that lived. Survivors of the tsunami share a special connection, knowing what it is like to come so close to losing everything. For those that were lucky enough not to have had to live through it, The Impossible does a very credible job of providing a glimpse into the chaos and suffering caused by the 2004 tsunami.