1.02.2005

December 26th 2004, Krabi Province, Southern Thailand

This is the last time I'd like to think about the events of this day. I've talked about it a great deal these last few days and I'm tired of the sound of my voice. I think me and the friends I was travelling with all feel a little guilty of the attention we've received of late - we are all fine, and suffered only minor cuts and scratches - and think it's important to concentrate on the many truly afflicted people we are now all so very aware of - particularly the indigenous people of those countries affected - this isn't just a disaster for Western tourists, it's a disaster for South East Asia.

However, here is a description of the Tsunamis as experienced by us, which may turn out to be a tediously long entry - let's see.

Courtesy of the Bangkok Post here's a graphic which shows where we five where when the waves hit. I've highlighted the area - Phra Nang Bay - in red. I realise my previous hastily written entry described it as an island, for which I apologise. Now I have a better idea of the geography;

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We were staying in beach huts North of this area and had chartered a boat to take us snorkelling off of several local islands. Completely unaware of any earthquake (as were most people in the area - how did this happen?) we set off in a Longtail boat at around 10.30 Thai time. The photo below was taken about 40 minutes before the waves came;

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I'm totally unsure of the time but I guess we arrived at Phra Nang beach at around 10.50 or so. Our boat guy, Mr Yes (that's what he asked to be called), said we had 30 minutes to look around before we headed off to Chicken Island, a small, uninhabited (I think) island over from Phra Nang. On the walk back up the beach to the Longtail I took this photo;

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Note how the boat is, although right up to the shore, still entirely in the water. Literally 5 minutes later it wasn't in the water at all, even though the boat itself hadn't moved. The boat guy had us all push the prow to get the Longtail floating but we couldn't beat the tide - it was so eerie - none of us knew what this meant, we just thought the tide was pretty rapid in Thailand. Whilst pushing the boat Mr Yes starting telling us stuff in broken English I didn't then understand. 'Plates' he kept saying, 'Plates move - maybe big wave soon - be quick'. We had no idea what he was talking about and just smiled gamely.

Eventually we got several other boatmen to help us get our Longtail out and free-floated about 20 metres from the beach. This is when our first spot of good luck came in. Richelle, a Canadian friend in our group was, bless her, in the habit of forgetting things during the entire holiday. This time she had left her bag in a cave at the far end of the beach and so us guys sat waiting and grumbling on the boat whilst she retrieved it. If she hadn't done this though, well, we would have either just landed at Chicken Island or been in far deeper waters and very possibly dead or in very great distress. Who knows?
Just as Richelle had come back, waded out to the boat and climbed in, our American friend Dan said 'Hey, check out that wave' which we all did and, having no sense of perspective, sat like idiots and remarked how unusual it was to see decent waves along the Thai coast. Then the wave got closer and approached one of the ubiquitous free-standing stone islands and we suddenly got a grasp of just how big it was. And still we sat and stared. You have to appreciate that there had been no warnings whatsoever of earthquakes, tsunamis or anything - to everyone this was just a normal day in what we felt was paradise.

And then the wave got closer, rapidly, and we saw a very large yacht get tossed up out of the water like a toy boat in the bath and then Dan said, extremely laconicaly to his credit; 'Do you think we should get out of the boat?'. Then it all went apeshit. The whole beach went crazy - whistles were blowing, people were screaming and running every which way, boat people where frantically trying to do stuff with their boats which we now realise was utterly futile. The whole thing was just insane. And so we began to jump from the Longtail, except the backpack we were using to carry passports and wallets was snagged onto the anchor at my end of the boat and for some reason the retrieval of the bag became my misplaced priority. Dan's camera too was apparently still on board because he shouted from the water for me to grab it if I could. And then I got real bad option paralysis. I didn't know what to do. Grab the camera? Grab the bag? Jump out of the boat? I could see the wave getting closer too - it was like something from a movie. I didn't have the wits about me to unhook the bag from where it was stuck and just kept tugging at it foolishly. Then one of us, maybe Ben - my friend from England - I'm not sure who, shouted 'Just get off the f***ing boat!' and that was enough to scare me into action. I jumped, clutching my camera above the water and half ran, half swam. These damn cheap sandals I had bought in Bangkok were slowing me down and I was so, so scared. Ben was waiting in the water, trying to grab me but I was too far away and it's the first time in my life I've just screamed 'Help Me!' but of course he couldn't. Thankfully the sandals got sucked off my feet by the water and I was able to catch everyone up and even had time enough to fire off the photographs below which I realise look like nothing at all but understand that the first tsunami was not the biggest wave - that was the second - and also that you just don't normally get waves like this off of Thai beaches. Compare these photos to the shot above which is much more indicative of a normal, sedate beach in Thailand. Also notice how in the second shot below people are still stood around wondering what to do whilst in the far right you can see a HUGE wave building up - and if this photo doesn't quite relay how big that wave is look at the guy in the middle of the shot and then compare his height to the wave several hundred metres behind him whilst allowing for the perspective of distance. Besides, we all know what the waves did so the photos are maybe not so important anyway. No one seemed to have anticipated something like this which is perhaps part of the reason so many are dead.

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At this point no one had any idea that this was only the first wave so people started running back onto the beach. Myself and Ben decided to go and try to help Mr Yes, who had stayed on the boat to try and limit the damage I guess. He was frantically trying to get it behind a large rock island probably to cover it from the waves somewhat. I gave my camera to Richelle and ran after Ben and then we saw the second wave - more whistles blowing and more intense shouting - terrifying really. We ran in the opposite direction as far as we could until we all hit a steep slope with a path leading left and right. Some people took the path to the left including my friends Anthony and Richelle, others to the right - this unfortunately led right back to the beach,
I hope those people are okay. Myself, Ben and Dan decided to take the slope, figuring it would be desirable to be higher up.
I remember this lady carrying a toddler who was clutching onto a big stick which kept hindering the woman's climb as it constantly snagged in tree branches. We had to forcibly take it off him. Everyone was helping people to get higher. Then there was an amazingly loud sound of water hitting the beachfront villas and in seconds it came flooding in to the bottom of where we were. Splintering wood, smashing glass, screams - these are the things we could hear.

After several minutes the water began to pull back out and we decided to climb back down the slope. This is when I actually got the worst injury during the whole thing. I slipped and fell onto a rock at the bottom of the hill cutting my back up a little. As I lay crumpled at the bottom of the slope a Thai guy above shouted to me to 'Be Careful!' and I said 'Man, I already fell for God's sake' and everyone on the hill laughed which I guess is a great thing about human nature - keep laughing if you can.

We decided to head back to the beach - I really don't know why - and saw a group of people kneeling over a huddled figure on the floor. A girl, her name was Jess, had been hit by a tree branch and her side was cut open exposing her ribs. She was in a pretty bad way. Her family (the people around her) asked us to go shout her dad's name - he was a doctor - which we did. We couldn't find him though so we returned to Jess and together with several others we carried her off the beach to a wooden bench which became a makeshift stretcher (which was a good idea from Ben). We carried her like this for an hour or so, attempting to find her some medical supplies (somehow her father got found and joined in with the carrying). At one point we had to make our way across a beach, slowly so as not to risk puncturing Jess's lung. This was a very tense few minutes as the sea was still churning up and the water was receeding again.

Along the way to the resorts medical supply room Jack, Jess's brother, ran ahead down a flooded path unaware that it was littered with broken glass from the lighting system. He got cut very badly and so we had to carry him too. As I had no shoes a German woman kindly gave me hers so I could make my way down what we dubbed 'the glass path' along with the others. Eventually Jess's dad was able to treat her with morphine and antiseptic but she was still in need of hospital treatment, as were many other people we encountered that day.

I realise this post is becoming far to long so I will be brief with the rest of the description. Myself, Ben and Dan, because we hadn't really sustained any bad injuries, spent most of the afternoon helping to carry people down to where a boat was going to pick them up to get them to a hospital. Also helping us was an American guy called Craig who was truly amazing - applying a makeshift splint to a womans leg, getting people organized, talking to shocked people - he did good and I wish I'd had time to get his email address and tell him so. During this whole time we saw only one dead woman who we carried up to higher ground so another wave wouldn't take her body. Her husband was still alive and sat in shock, the body lying at his feet. It was very upsetting to see, but there was of course nothing anyone could do.

The next morning we were evacuated to Krabi - the main town in the area. Police, the Coastguard and local boatpeople all helped in this effort. Overnight we had been ordered to stay confined to the resort we had found ourselves at and recieved huge amounts of generosity and kindness from it's staff and guests. An English couple gave us money, an American couple gave us clothes (we had only our swimtrunks on) and yet another American couple let us wash ourselves in their swimming pool, gave us food and money and let us sleep in their villa overnight. At this point we assumed the bag containing the money and passports was gone and were extremely grateful and relieved that we now had cash, clothing and food which we carried in a cushion cover we stole from the resort (sorry).

Immediately prior to being evacuated we decided to run back to Phra Nang Beach to see if we could find the longtail wreckage. The beach was utterly devastated. Large pleasure yachts had been flipped over and crushed, diesel from engines was all over the place, pineapples, trees, flip flops and sandals, the disturbing sight of a mangled pram, boat people crying and rummaging through the wreckage of their livelihoods and surreally and stupidly, some Westerner sitting on a towel applying sunscreen like nothing had happened. (There were other examples of this seeming indifference - we overheard a resort guest asking if her 8.30am massage was now cancelled, another complained that there was no dessert, as the staff attempted to feed all those trapped at the resort in a smashed and broken dining room). To cut it short - we found the longtail wreckage, it was lodged under two other longtails, a mangrove tree had severed halfway through the hull. We pulled at the boat for about half an hour until two security gaurds, thinking we were looters, came and shouted at us. Eventually we were able to communicate that this was infact the boat we had been on before the waves. With that, one of the guards said 'OK!' and climbed inside the overturned boat. Within a minute or two we heard the sound of velcro being undone and out came a hand clutching Ben's mobile phone. We shouted happily and other guards came running and helped us to pull the bag out from between the tree and the shattered boat hull. The longtail had been flipped so quicky the bag didn't have time to fall out. We all hugged the guards and they pulled our a bottle of whiskey that had washed up and we all drank and smoked cigarettes and kept hugging each other.

As we queued on the evacuation beach later on we saw Anthony and Richelle. They had spent the night up a small mountain and had not been allowed to come down. Both of them had cut feet but were otherwise fine. Richelle had also managed to keep hold of my camera and my sunglasses which were now shattered but who cares. I took these photos then and upon our arrival at Krabi:

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I also took these photos on our return to Ao Nang, a town close to where we had been staying and where the story was, unfortunately, pretty much the same:

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Finally safe and incredibly shocked by what we were now able to see on the News we sat and waited for a bus to Bangkok in relative silence, staring at our possessions drying on the table and thinking about what tens of thousands of far worse off people had lost and would continue to lose over the next few weeks.

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So that's basically it as far as our group is concerned - now we are back in Japan and trying to feel better. But for millions of others it's going to take a long time for things to get better- 10 years is the latest estimate. And for over 124,000 people it will never get better. Below is a far from exhaustive list of websites who are taking donations (they are clickable links) and, at the risk of sounding holier-than-thou, if you can help, please do.

Disasters Emergency Comittee
UN World Food Program
Medecin Sans Frontieres
UNICEF
UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency)
Red Cross/Red Crescent
Hindu Forum
Islamic Aid
Mediar
Oxfam

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