SURVIVORS AND THE DEAD FROM THE DECEMBER 2004 TSUNAMI IN THAILAND
Robert McFadden wrote in the New York Times: “It was just after breakfast on Ngai Island, one of the many resorts on Thailand's west coast that welcome Asians and Europeans escaping winter's cold.Simon Clark, 29, a London photographer, looked out on an almost idyllic scene: sunbathers lying on the beach, snorkellers bobbing on the gentle waves out near the sharp-edged but beautiful coral reefs. The deadly wave was unimaginably big, stretching to the horizons, and it struck suddenly, looming up with a roar like a monster from the deep. It buried everyone, everything. It was over quickly, Clark said. "People that were snorkelling were dragged along the coral and washed up on the beach," he said, "and people that were sunbathing got washed into the sea." [Source: Robert McFadden, New York Times, December 28, 2004]
Reporting from Nam Khem, Thailand, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “The empty door frame, standing alone without a wall, is where her sister struggled for her life against the rising water before she drowned. This pile of broken masonry is where her 13-year-old son held his grandmother afloat until, as he said, her eyes grew as round as a foreigner's, and she died. This jumble of debris is where Chanjira Sangkarak ran until the wave dragged her, shaking her like a beast with its prey, down to the ocean floor. When she bobbed to the surface, she found herself embracing a board filled with nails, and soon a blue plastic tray emerged beside her. She clung to these for 10 hours, watching her neighbors sink below the surface, one after another, until she reached the shore. [Source: Seth Mydans, The New York Times, January 3, 2005]
Toru Kawabe wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Sapporo residents Kazuo Honma, 49, and his wife, Yoshie, 46, were staying at a hotel on Phuket. They said the first floor of the large hotel was filled with sand after the tsunami hit the island. According to the couple, they were leaving their second floor room Sunday morning when they heard a large bang that sounded like breaking windows. The couple immediately stepped out on to the balcony of their room and saw waves covering roads in front of the hotel. “I heard screams. As my hnads were shaking, I couldn’t pack my bag,” Honma’s wife said, Hotel guests were panicking and rushed to the fourth floor using emergency stairs, she said, adding that hotel staff told the guests to hold onto pillars if other waves came. The water continued to rise, forcing people at the hotel to congregate on the roof. [Source: Toru Kawabe, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 27, 2004]
Nick Cumming-Bruce wrote in the New York Times, “At a hotel on the resort island of Phuket, Carl Xaver and his partner, Scott Weatherby of Cortland, New York, were eating breakfast in their hotel on the first day of their visit with no sense of any imminent danger, even when they saw a hip-high wave moving towards the shore. “We’re not idiots, but we’re standing there with the camera taking pictures,” says 38-year old Xaver, a communications professor at New York’s Cortland Tompkins Community College. [Source: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, December 28, 2004]
“Within seconds the wave smashed into the room hurling Xaver into a wall at the back and sweeping Weatherby out the door and half a block down the road before helping hands pulled him from the current. “There were moments I was praying my legs would snap off: Just snap, snap and go,” says Xaver, remembering the pain as heavy teak wood furniture pinioned her in the back of the restaurant. Xaver had 50 stitches and pieces of wood removed from her leg and may need surgery on ankle ligaments.
Swamped by the Tsunami in a Phuket Hotel Room
The Los Angeles Times reported: “At the Patong Beach Bungalows in Phuket, Thailand, Bruce Hugman, a 59-year-old British medical writer, was awakened by a thud like someone pounding on his door. He had not felt the quake an hour and 45 minutes earlier, and now wondered drowsily if he should sleep a little longer or get to the breakfast buffet before the resort stopped serving. The water seeping under the door soon made the question moot. [Source: Paul Watson, Barbara Demick and Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2005]
“Hugman's first instinct was to stack his luggage on the bed to keep it dry. But a moment later, he recalled from his hospital bed, "water was pouring in, as if it had been injected." When Hugman pulled back the curtain, he was confronted with a wall of water that rose above the top of the window. The glass did not break, but the pressure of the wave prevented Hugman from even turning the front-door handle to get out. "That was my first near-death moment," he said. "If the window had blown in, I surely would have drowned."
“Instead, the water receded with a loud sucking sound. Wearing just the underpants he had slept in, Hugman opened his door to an eerie scene: the sky dark, 3 feet of "syrupy brown water with all this stuff floating in it" covering the beach and no sign of any other people. "I'm on my own," Hugman thought, wondering if he had slept through an evacuation warning.
“There was none. In Bangkok, the Thai capital, government officials had seen the U.S. bulletin that a tsunami was possible near the quake's epicenter. They hesitated to issue what could have been a false alarm at the height of winter tourist season. Each year Thailand draws 12 million tourists, mostly Europeans, to its pristine beaches -- a key part of the nation's economy. "There wasn't much information. There was quite a short time," said Amorn Chantananvivate, a senior official in the meteorology department. The first, an hour and 21 minutes after the quake, advised that the temblor "would be felt in parts of Thailand," according to the text printed in the Bangkok Post. The next bulletin advised fishermen of 9- to 15-foot waves and warned of high tides on some beaches. It came about two hours after Hugman had fled his bungalow.
“The retreating water gave Hugman time to join a Swedish friend at the unit behind him. As a second wave hit, the two escaped by standing on the narrow ledge of a concrete patio railing and holding on to the side of the bungalow. They watched as refrigerators and gas canisters floated past in the churn. Once again, the water retreated. A man standing on a neighboring roof said he saw a third wave coming in.
“Still on the railing, Hugman and his friend tucked their heads under the eaves of the bungalow roof in an attempt to shield themselves from the surging debris. But the water rose higher than the last time. As Hugman gripped the roof, the tsunami lifted his legs until he was floating horizontally. Once again, the water abruptly retreated, pulling off Hugman's underwear as it went. He fled with the others up the hill to the paved road that runs above the beach. The small shops that once lined the street had been ransacked by the waves. A bag of T-shirts bobbed past; Hugman grabbed a few to cover himself and continued to run.
Japanese Describes Kids Being Swept Away to The Deaths in Phuket
Tamaki Oshima, from Yokohama, was vacationing in Phuket with his family. In a letter to his children's school, publsihed in the Asahi Shimbun, he described the terror and helplessness he felt as he watched his son Kai, 9, and daughter Sara, 6, washed away in tsunami. Everything seemed normal, he wrote, when the family left their hotel on Boxing Day and walked to the beach close by. They had heard no reports of a magnitude 9.0 Richter-scale earthquake off Indonesia or tsunami in the Indian Ocean. [Source: Asahi Shimbun, January 2005]
I don't remember what time it was when we were caught up in the tsunami,'' Oshima wrote.There were three big waves.'' He said the first wave was only 30 or 50 centimeters high, but it came in very fast. As the family fled to higher ground, a second, bigger wave, hit.
The four of us were swept away by the second wave that reached a height of about 2 to 3 meters,'' Oshima wrote.It felt like we were in a washing machine full of dirty water. We were thrown against trees and we struggled desperately in the direction of whatever light we could barely make out from the dirty water.''
Oshima said his wedding ring and his watch were torn off as he fought to escape the raging torrent, finally emerging about 800 meters from where he was standing when the wave hit.
He said he and his wife, Noriko, were rescued in separate locations after the second tsunami settled. The third tsunami crashed into the spot on higher ground where he had found safety. The waves rose 1 to 2 meters more, almost dragging him under again.
I had climbed up an electric utility pole, but the water reached just below my feet,'' Oshima wrote.After about an hour passed, I met up with my wife at our hotel.''
The Oshimas were taken to a hospital so their injuries could be treated. On Dec. 27, they contacted the Japanese Embassy for help in locating their children. They also asked hotel staff to assist. The Oshimas had the awful task of identifying the bodies of their children on Dec. 28. Oshima said he found Kai's body and that a search party found Sara. Oshima wrote that while he had hoped to find his two children sooner, he was at least consoled by the fact he knew by Dec. 28 what had happened to his precious offspring.
Split Second Decisions Decide Life and Death in Namkim, Phangnga
Peter S. Goodman wrote in the Washington Post: “In the instant before the water swept over the land, her father rushed into the house to warn her. Get out, he shouted. Run. Kanchlee Oonmanil ran, and she lived. She raced up the hill as the wave demolished everything behind her, flinging boats onto the shore like toys. Her father, meanwhile, ran to warn some cousins living nearby. No one has seen him since -- not in the hospitals, not in the open-air morgues. Not among the bodies strewn in the muck in this wasted village, once home to 2,000 families and now a graveyard for more than 600 people. [Source: Peter S. Goodman, Washington Post, December 30, 2004]
“While much attention has focused on the thousands of foreign tourists who died while vacationing on Asia's white sand beaches, the disaster overwhelmingly affected local residents who occupy marshy scraps of undeveloped land with no protection from the sea's wrath. Within these coastal communities, the difference between living and dying was often determined by panicky, split-second decisions or small twists of fate. The dead were closer to the water, or farther from the door. They were the ones like Kanchlee Oonmanil's father, who tried to help friends and relatives, or who did not immediately heed entreaties to run, or who heard them an instant too late. They were the ones who hesitated, torn between the impulse to flee and the fear of losing their belongings.
“This village in Phangnga province -- the hardest-hit region in Thailand -- was first settled decades ago by tin miners. The mines have long since been exhausted, and residents have shifted to fishing, a line of work generally pursued by men. More than 500 of the 600-plus bodies extricated from the wreckage this week were men, police said.
Most fishermen here spend their nights at sea, casting nets for tuna and squid. By 10 a.m. Sunday, when the first warnings of the tsunami came, they had already returned and unloaded their catch. Some were having a meal or cup of coffee. "Fishermen, they have no fear about the sea, so they couldn't believe all the shouting," said Talinee Chuwanakit, a woman who sold shredded coconut in the village market. "They stayed behind and they worked on their engines."
“Talinee said she was tending her market stall in the center of town when she saw people running and heard shouts of "Water! Water!" She fled immediately. A few days later she returned to survey the wreckage. Entering her stall, she bowed slightly toward a photograph on the wall and placed her palms together in a Thai gesture of reverence. It was the face of a famous Buddhist monk, she explained, and the reason she had survived. "Because of his protection," she said.
“The location of her business also appeared to be a factor. Talinee's stall was at the center of the market, away from the surrounding concrete walls. The path up the hill lay straight ahead. "As soon as I got outside, I saw that the water had already swept in on both sides of the market," she said. Two of Talinee's friends -- who worked in another row, up against the market wall -- did not make it out in time. One was a 65-year-old woman who sold chicken and chili paste, the other a 50-year-old woman who sold pork. A third vendor just one stall away from Talinee, a 70-year-old man who sold vegetables, also died. He was in good health and could move fast, Talinee said, but he made a bad calculation. "He didn't believe the warnings," she said. "He was worried about his stuff, thinking about business. I ran, he stayed."
“Supon Panjarat, another villager, did not hesitate when he heard the shouting. He grabbed his wife and headed for their motorbike, but the engine did not start right away, according to a family friend. The wave hit the couple before they could move the bike. Supon was hurtled through the window of a nearby house and out the other side, the friend recounted. Floating in the water, he grabbed a plastic jug and bobbed like a cork as he was swept along. He landed in mud a quarter-mile away, alive. But Supon's wife has yet to be found. She lost a leg in a car accident 15 years ago, limiting her ability to swim.
Poverty, Hope and False Alarms in Namkim
Peter S. Goodman wrote in the Washington Post: The tsunami brought catastrophe to some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable communities -- including subsistence fishing villages and transient settlements where people without the means to erect homes of brick and mortar fashioned flimsy shelters from bamboo, thatch and aluminum sheets. While the line between life and death was often accidental, the general poverty of the villagers made them all vulnerable to seaborne danger. Kanchlee and her parents, for example, were landless. They rented a house next to the pier and earned about $8 a day selling plates of rice and noodles to the fishermen who tied up their brightly painted vessels there. When the water came, there was only one way out -- up a narrow road lined with engine repair stalls. [Source: Peter S. Goodman, Washington Post, December 30, 2004]
“Three days after the tsunami, “the people of Namkim were reminded once more how close is the sea's danger, and how slim the avenue of escape. As rescue workers hacked at the boards of a collapsed house, hoping to extricate a woman who was reportedly still alive, more than 100 people gathered to watch. The onlookers were buoyed by word that, three days after the tsunami, someone was going to be rescued from under the rubble. But when they heard faint squeals coming from the ruins, the crowd realized that the only life below belonged to a piglet. The woman was dead. When the workers pulled the animal out, some people smiled or laughed with a hint of survivor's pride: So much death around us, but we are still alive.
“Then, in an instant, everything changed again. Someone shouted that the waves were coming back, and hundreds of people began running up the road as fast as they could. Some jumped into pickup trucks, then panicked as they encountered other vehicles coming down the hill. "Go back! Go back! Water!" the drivers shouted. It was a false alarm, but the trucks pulled out fast as policemen whistled at the incoming vehicles to turn back. In the trucks' open beds, people held hands and hugged, exchanging looks of terror.
Grief and Destruction at Khao Lak After the December 2004 Tsunami
The resort of Khao Lak was devastated by the tsunami. More than 2,000 foreign tourists died there. Most of the European who died in the tragedy were in Khao Lak and nearly half of all the people that died in Thailand in the disaster died there. The waves that struck Khao Lak were between 3.1 meters and 10.6 meters in height and struck the shore at speeds of between six and eight meters per second. One Japanese scientist estimated that the force of the waves that hit Khao Lak were “20 percent that of a Hiroshima bomb.”
Nick Cumming-Bruce wrote in the New York Times: “Nowhere in Thailand is the cost of the disaster more visible than at Khao Lak, about 100 kilometers, or 60 miles, north of Phuket, where two-and-a-half-year-old Rangnar was lost, one of at least 1,000 people — and probably many more — missing or dead in that area. Waves appear to have struck Khao Lak, a newly emerging hub of holiday resorts and diving shops, with a fury far greater than at Phuket. The force of the water hurled victims — as well as mud, trees, vehicles and the debris of buildings — hundreds of meters inland. A 12-meter, or 40-foot, police vessel that was patrolling the bay when the wave struck now rests against a line of trees a kilometer or more from the shore. [Source: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, December 30, 2004]
“The deputy interior minister, Sutham Sangprathum, said that more than 700 foreign tourists were among those confirmed dead in the country. Khao Lak is expected to account for half of all those killed in Thailand. Casualty lists posted in hospitals make it clear that the great majority of the visitors to this stretch of coast were European: French, German, Swedish and British in particular. Sweden alone is believed to have had 20,000 to 30,000 citizens on vacation in the area hit by the tsunami, and officials fear that many of the 1,000 whose fate is unknown will never be found. From the estimates given by Swedish tour groups, many of these were in the Khao Lak area.
“The white-and-gold coffin of a young South Korean bride also killed at Khao Lak, now in a Buddhist temple in Phuket, underlines the many other nations caught in Thailand's share of this Asia-wide disaster. South Korea has said that 4 of its citizens are dead and 11 missing in Thailand, and South Korean Embassy officials prepared chrysanthemums and incense for use at traditional funeral rites requested by relatives.
“Chuleeporn Sermsirimanon, owner of the Khao Lak Paradise Resort, looked through the debris around the hotel's shattered two-story guest houses for personal documents to pass on to local police and foreign consular officials. He recalled how, moments before the tsunami struck, the sea had receded, prompting many guests to flock onto the beach to watch and photograph the phenomenon.
“The resort received a phone call warning of imminent danger, but it came too late to alert the 54 guests. Workers ran to the beach, shouting, but guests were too busy taking pictures to notice, an assistant manager of the resort said, and nine of them were killed. Five of the resort's Thai staff also were killed, Chuleeporn said. Farther north along the coast, similar scenes unfolded at the much bigger Sofitel Magic Lagoon, owned by the French hotel group Accor, where 415 guests were staying at the time the wave struck. Company officials in Paris say that only 135 of them have been accounted for.
Swept Away by the December 2004 Tsunami in Phi Phi
Abby Goodnough wrote in the New York Times, “Most hotels, shops and restaurants were clustered between two bays at the island's flattest and narrowest point, which proved pitifully vulnerable to the 20-foot wave. At least 700 people here died, with 950 more presumed lost when the water plowed buildings, palm trees and everything else in its path several hundred yards inland. Chay Kyme, a Briton who owned a dive shop on Loh Dalum Bay, was lucky, suffering only deep gashes in his hand and foot when the water swept him across the isthmus and into the other bay, where a longboat rescued him. A friend who had been at his side, five months pregnant and soon to be married, was gone, as were dozens of others he had worked and lived with. [Source: Abby Goodnough, New York Times, January 11, 2005]
“On the morning of the wave, Mr. Kyme said, some people were sleeping late while others were sunbathing or diving. An initial, smaller wave flooded the beach, startling people who then watched in wonder as the water receded as far as they could see. When it returned, Mr. Kyme climbed on the hotel reception desk. His friend Marc Bérubé , diving in the opposite bay, began tumbling wildly underwater. The second, much larger wave suddenly loomed, and some people began running to the hills. Lisa Bier, a diving instructor on one of Phi Phi's other beaches, said that those who escaped to higher ground waited nearly two hours before daring to return to sea level. When they did, she said, they saw dead and injured people everywhere amid debris. Survivors spent the rest of the day carrying the wounded into the hills and waiting for helicopters from the mainland.”
Toru Kawabe wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Yuko Hirose, 41, of Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, and her daughter Midori, 7, who were staying on Phi Phi Island, which faces Phuket Island, were swept out to sea by the tsunami. "I swam desperately, holding my daughter," she said. Hirose and her daughter were walking on a pier in the island's harbor when the tsunami hit, just after local people had gathered on the beach saying something strange was happening at sea. "A wave more than two meters high struck me, and the next thing I knew we were being swept away," she said. [Source: Toru Kawabe, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 27, 2004]
“The wave engulfed the two and quickly dragged them out to sea, at which point Hirose managed to grab Midori, she said. Swept several hundred meters away by the wave, she found a chest floating in the water. They swam to the chest and drifted for a while around the market, which had become part of the ocean. They reached a hotel building whose first floor was submerged, and a foreign tourist in the hotel pulled them up through a window. Hirose and her daughter went to the hotel's rooftop, where they joined about 50 people taking refuge. Hirose said it looked like a hospital, with injured people lying everywhere. People carried beds and bedclothes from guest rooms onto the rooftop, where they spent the night.
Nick Cumming-Bruce wrote in the New York Times, “William and Amanda Robins knew something was wrong when what had seemed like cries of excitement from Asian tourists coming off the ferry from the Thai mainland turned to screams of terror. The newlyweds from Sacramento, California, feared the island was the target of a terrorist strike. They jumped a low counter and hid in a small room full of computers. “We got down and started to pray. Amanda said “This is it? and I said “No, it’s not and we held on together.” [Source: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, December 28, 2004]
“The building started shaking, they heard a roar like a bulldozer and minutes, perhaps seconds, later they were swept up by a torrent of water of terrifying force, “One minute we were on our honeymoon,” said William a 26-year old pro golfer, “the next we were in the water fighting for our lives.” The Robins described a terrifying ordeal similar to many others as the water wrenched them apart, battered them with concrete blocks and other debris of their hotel’s now demolished computer room and dragged them at high speed more than 150 meters out to sea. At the point when William feared his lungs could not hold out he came to the surface and miraculously Amanda bobbed up a few feet away and a boat nearby pulled them from the water. Amanda suffered a fractured pelvis. William had a broken collar bone and a nearly severed ear.
Devastation on Phi Phi After the December 2004 Tsunami
The day after the disaster AFP reported: “Thailand's once-idyllic Phi Phi island Monday was a scene of utter devastation following a calamitous Asian earthquake that sent tidal waves crashing over beaches...Hardly a building was left standing in the wake of the tsunamis, with rows of chalets next to the island's only ferry terminal splintered or collapsed. Wirat Mansa-ad, who was conducting official rescue operations on the small group of islands in the kingdom's south, told AFP earlier, said, "I saw bodies almost everywhere on land, and in the water too, and I think there are many more bodies trapped under the bungalow debris," adding that most of the fatalities were of elderly tourists.[Source: Roslan Rahma, AFP, December 27, 2004]
“Witnesses informed him that about 200 tourists had barely disembarked from their boat at Phi Phi when they were washed away by one of the tidal waves, he said. Bodies were seen strewn about the island, covered in white cloths before being taken away by emergency crews or Western tourists volunteering in the rescue.
“Hundreds of workers and foreign tourists, including several injured, had been evacuated from the 28-square-kilometre (11-square-mile) main Phi Phi island, leaving about 800 still stranded in the island's hills. Thai military and rescue organisations launched relief operations across the kingdom's southern provinces, where the death toll was climbing steadily, with more than 3,800 injured. Krabi's provincial governor Anont Promnart earlier said he feared at least 100 tourists may have died on the idyllic main island, which was the backdrop for Hollywood blockbuster "The Beach" starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
“Within one catastrophic minute the island found itself under the Andaman Sea, its pristine environment literally uprooted by nature's wrath. "I saw nothing left," said Malee Arab, a 31-year-old housekeeper at the Princess Bungalows who spent Sunday night in the hilltop jungle, snatching floating packets of food and bottled water from destroyed hotels and restaurants for sustainance. "Waves came from every side and they crashed together in the middle of the island," she said. "I am very lucky to be alive. I can't find my co-workers," she said.
“Kanya Srion, 20, a waitress at a Phi Phi restaurant, recalled stepping over dozens of bodies hours after she saw the waves "chasing people down". "The waves swept everything off the beach: tables, people, trees, everything." Thai vacationer Pornchai Pongsanthia was filming holiday footage of a white-sand beach on Phi Phi when he saw a wall of water through his lens. He ran upstairs into a hotel as the water kept rising. "It pushed some people who were downstairs up to the second floor," the Bangkok Post quoted him as saying. "They tried to hold on to anything they could and screamed for help."
Ten-Year-Old Girl Saves 100 Tourists with a Lesson from a Geography Lesson
The Telegraph reported: “A 10-year-old girl saved her family and 100 other tourists from the Asian tsunami because she had learnt about the giant waves in a geography lesson, it has emerged. Tilly Smith, from Oxshott, Surrey, was holidaying with her parents and seven-year-old sister on Maikhao beach in Phuket, Thailand, when the tide rushed out. As the other tourists watched in amazement, the water began to bubble and the boats on the horizon started to violently bob up and down. [Source: The Telegraph, January 1, 2005]
“Tilly, who had studied tsunamis in a geography class two weeks earlier, quickly realised they were in danger. She told her mother they had to get off the beach immediately and warned that it could be a tsunami. She explained she had just completed a school project on the huge waves and said they were seeing the warning signs that a tsunami was minutes away. Her parents alerted the other holidaymakers and staff at their hotel, which was quickly evacuated. The wave crashed a few minutes later, but no one on the beach was killed or seriously injured.
“Later Smith said, “Suddenly, "I saw this bubbling on the water, right on the edge, and foam sizzling just like in a frying pan," she remembered. "The water was coming in, but it wasn't going out again. It was coming in, and then in, and then in, towards the hotel." She recognized it as an indication that earthquake-driven waves were only minutes away. Tilly turned to her mother, Penny, "and I said, 'Mum, I know there's something wrong, I know it's going to happen -- the tsunami.'" When her mother replied that it was just a day at the beach, "Tilly went hysterical," recalls her father, Colin, who decided to return to the hotel with her 8-year-old sister, Holly.
“While Colin Smith relayed Tilly's warning to the hotel staff, the girl dashed back toward the beach filled with about 100 people. She told the Japanese-born hotel chef of the danger, "and he knew the word tsunami because it's Japanese. But he never saw one." The chef and a nearby hotel security agent both spread the warning and the beach was swiftly evacuated -- minutes before the devastating waves struck. The beach near the Marriott Hotel was one of the few in Phuket where no one was killed or seriously hurt.
“In an interview with the Sun, Tilly gave the credit to her geography teacher, Andrew Kearney, at Oxshott's Danes Hill Prep School. She said "Last term Mr Kearney taught us about earthquakes and how they can cause tsunamis. "I was on the beach and the water started to go funny. There were bubbles and the tide went out all of a sudden. "I recognised what was happening and had a feeling there was going to be a tsunami. I told mummy."
In November 2005 Tilly was welcomed at U.N. headquarters by officials of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, a Geneva-based U.N. agency that is trying to educate people worldwide on proper disaster response. On that trip she met former U.S. President Bill Clinton. "Tilly's story is a simple reminder that education can make a difference between life and death," Clinton said before his meeting with Tilly. "All children should be taught disaster reduction so they know what to do when natural hazards strike."
Victims of the December 2004 Tsunami in Thailand
A Swedish boy, 2½-year-old Ragnar Bang-Ericsson, was among the missing from Khao Luk. His father Anders told the New York Times the last time he saw his son the boy was “floating away on the waves, away from me, on his blue water wings...It was like being in a big washing machine, thrown around,, tumbling around. I had to change my grip in order to swim better. But then I lost hold of him for a second. The last thing he said to me was, “Daddy, I am scared.” Anders and his wife stayed in Thailand for weeks looking for clues of Ragner but never found anything.
Ander said family was hanging out at the pool at his hotel. “Suddenly someone came shouting, saying there is a tidal wave coming” and not long after that they found themselves facing a wave as high as a four story building. “I was carrying Ragnar in my arms, but we were all flushed out of the room through the concrete wall. We were floating at a speed that I was later told was 30 kilometers per hour. We were struggling with a lot of debris, garden furniture, trees, cars, electric cables.”
His wife grabbed on a door and rode it like a body board until she was deposited at the edge of a rubber plantation. “There were cars in the water, houses, floating next to me, refrigerators, beds. Then I saw an electricity pole started crashing down in front of me. I thought now I am going to get strangled. Then, everything went black.”
Poom Jensen, the 21-year-old grandson of the King of Thailand was killed. He was last seen jetskiing off of Krabi. His body was found near Khao Lak beach. He is the son of the king’s eldest daughter Princess Ubolratana. The princess and her 21-year-old son were staying in Khao Lak at La Flora resort, The hotel's villas were destroyed, and water damaged the main building.
Grief and Death at and Phuket After the December 2004 Tsunami
Nick Cumming-Bruce wrote in the New York Times: “The photo of a small, smiling Scandinavian boy taped to an office window in Phuket International Hospital epitomizes the crushing anxiety and grief that weighs on this holiday resort island. "Please help us find little Rangnar," pleads the message left by desperate family or friends. [Source: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, December 30, 2004]
“At Phuket City Hall, an information and clearing center for survivors, gruesome photographs of the dead, battered and disfigured by the forces of nature, have been posted alongside lists of casualties in an effort to help the process of identification.
“The magnitude of the disaster has overwhelmed the facilities available in Phuket to cope with the dead. The Thai authorities have arranged to send 10 refrigerated containers to ease the pressure on Phuket's morgues, Western consular officials say, but in the meantime bodies are being transferred to hospitals in other provinces, complicating the process of tracing and identifying the dead. The horrific end to year-end festivities was evident in the small clusters of bodies wrapped by plastic, or partly covered by it, lying along a 30-kilometer stretch of coast waiting for collection.
An international forensic team, believed to be the largest ever put together, was assembled in Thailand to identify the victims. It was comprised of more than 200 forensic experts from 20 countries. As of April 2005, they had identified 1,176 bodies but had yet to identify 2,547 victims, about half of them foreigners. It was initially estimated that it could take five years to identify all of victims. People found without identification were identified using fingerprints, dental records and DNA samples. The process was slowed by delays in the arrival of “ante mortem” data from families of the victims. DNA identification was not as effective as people thought it would be because the tissues decayed very fast.
There was an outcry over the use of mass graves. In some cases bodies were exhumed and refrigerated until they could be identified. Most of those who were identified were foreigners. Most Thais were placed in shallow trenches and kept there without being identified or they were cremated, sometimes on a pyre made with old tires. Families members of the dead and missing foreigner poured in from all over the world to look for their loved ones or clues to what might of happened to them.
Overwhelmed by the Death at Khao Lak After the December 2004 Tsunami
At Khao Lak, dozens of bodies arriving at a temporary morgue at Yan Yao Buddhist temple were unrecognisable after so long in the tropical heat. Marko Cunningham, a New Zealand volunteer at the temple, said that the decomposing bodies posed a health risk. "Human parts all over the place, dogs have been in as well last night to some of the bodies. Yes, there is a potential for disease here, yes," he said.
A week after the tsunami Reuters reported: “At least 1,927 foreigners died on Khao Lak, where a giant wall of water swept her one kilometers inland and crumpled luxury hotels whose 5,000 rooms were full at the peak of the Christmas and New Year tourist season. Khao Lak, with a gently sloping beach which made it safe for children, was especially popular with Scandinavians and Germans. [Source: Reuters, December 31, 2004]
“The bodies arriving at Cunningham's temporary morgue were unrecognisable after so long in the tropical heat, some so decomposed they were half liquid. "Everyone is sick of it," Cunningham, a linguistics teacher at a Thai university, said of the volunteers handling the bodies. "I can see people shirking, just like me," he said. "The last truck yesterday, I just couldn't handle it."
“Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti appealed for more refrigerated containers to store the thousands of bodies. "Many firms are shutting down during this holiday season. Please send refrigerated containers or dry ice to help us store these decomposing bodies," he told Bangkok radio while supervising the search on Khao Lak.
“Relatives and friends flying in from Europe in the vain hope their loved ones are lying injured in hospital are having to face the grim reality that they may be among the bloated bodies now lying in refrigerated containers the government sent. They scour gruesome mosaics of photographs of distorted faces pinned on bulletin boards alongside small possessions -- a ring perhaps, or a watch -- which someone might recognise. "She was with her boyfriend on Khao Lak," Miriam Rhyner said of her 25-year-old sister Nicole after flying in from Switzerland. "My father is there searching," she said, pinning Nicole's photograph on a bulletin board at Phuket City Hall.
“Sweden estimated 2,500 of its people were missing and said its toll could top 1,000. Germany has more than 1,000 missing. Italy, Norway, Denmark, Finland and the Czech Republic each reported hundreds missing. Australia said it feared its toll might be "in the hundreds". Russia had 80 missing.
Survivors of Great Tsunami of 2004 in Thailand
On survivor in Koh Kau Khao said she was in a Buddhist temple praying when the water rushed in and reached three meters above the floor. She managed to climb a tree to safety, something she would never have been able to do under normal circumstances. Her 23-year-old daughter was not so lucky. She died from head injuries after she was thrown against a wall of the temple.
The 200 Moken — an ethnic group also known as sea nomads — that live on South Surin Island, 65 kilometers off the west coast of Thailand, all survived but one even though the island was hard hit by the tsunami waves and the flimsy thatched huts that they live in are all located next to sea. They have traditionally called tsunamis “waves that eat people.” Closely in tune with the sea they knew that an earthquake followed by a retreating sea meant only one thing. A 60-something Moken chief told the New York Times, “I had never seen such as low tide. I started telling people that a wave was coming.” The chief said he that he had been told about such thing by his elders. By the time the wave arrived all the Moken on the island had safely reached high ground. The one man who was killed was elderly and disabled and had accidently been left behind.
Survivors and friends and relatives of the dead consoled themselves with a series of Buddhist rituals and ceremonies, some of them involving hundreds of monks and survivors. An abbot at a temple outside Phuket told AFP, “We say prayers to send merit to the victims. By sending merit to those lost, for those who have survived it helps because they have done something to help. It helps people move foreward.” There were a numerous reports of ghost sighting. Some said they saw the ghosts of tourists hailing taxis.
Supermodel Petra Nemcova, who was the cover girl on 2003 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, survived by clinging to a tree for eight hours before she was rescued. She was carried away with her boyfriend, fashion photographer Simom Atlee, when waves overwhelmed their beach hut in Phuket. She sustained broken bones, possibly a broken pelvis, and internal injuries. Atlee was never found. Swedish ski great Ingemar Stenmark was sunbathing at Khok Kloom 50 kilometers from Phuket, when he saw a huge wave bearing down in him. “The water from first wave disappeared,” he said, “but then it came back with terrifying speed. He and his girlfriend escaped injury. Australian rules football player Troy Broadridge was on a honeymoon in Phuket with his bride Trisha. Trisha was found safe but Troy was missing.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
Last updated November 2012