First Hand Experiences of Some of the Survivors of the Tsunami’s in the Thailand Area ----

 

P.S.  These emails were sent to me on Monday, January 3rd by a friend (and co-worker) in Torrance, CA.  Some of his relatives were vacationing in and around Thailand when the Tsunami’s struck the beaches where they were staying.   Dave Brent   

------------third email message

December 26, 2004 The Luckiest Day of Our Lives

Ours is not a story of heroism, but a story of good fortune, of fleeing, fear, confusion, and appreciation for the people of Thailand. If there ever was a place to be stuck and in need of helpful people…….Thailand is the place. Our family left for Thailand on Dec. 16th for a sixteen day vacation in Bangkok, Chang Mai, and the Phuket region. We were staying at a hotel at Nai Harn Beach on the southern end of the island of Phuket, on the morning of Dec. 26th. Following is an account of our great timing, great luck, and great people.

Before I give details of that day it is interesting to note some of our very lucky timing:

We were at Patong Beach all day Dec. 25th

We were scheduled to take a ferry to Phi Phi Island on Dec. 27

I had seriously thought of going to Khao Lak on Dec. 26th for a day by myself, my wife Debbie tried to talk me into that morning thinking it would be good for me to get away for the day. 3,854 people have been reported dead there so far.

Debbie jogged on the beach one hour before the tsunami hit. She had an uncomfortable feeling because the waves and wind felt unusual to her.

Louis and I were snorkeling when the tsunami hit but had climbed out on the rocks for a moment.

Sam was in the room, not on the beach as usual because he was sick.

At the beginning of our trip my wife Debbie had an intuitive feeling that this might not be a safe trip. She asked me in the driveway if I felt good about the trip. I was apprehensive but not because I felt we would experience a disaster. I did feel that this trip might be too much for the kids. Of course I wasn’t going to tell anybody.

Our trip started with two wonderful days and nights in Bangkok. Our family was thrilled with the wonderful markets and street life. After two days Sam became sick with flu symptoms and a 103 degree temperature. We flew to Chang Mai and had a great time except Sam was sick most of the time. After our stay in Chang Mai we flew to Phuket and stayed on Nai Harn beach at the quiet southern end of the island at the Sabana Resort. We had four wonderful days and nights at the resort. We all slept better than any time in our lives.

On the morning of December 26th we had breakfast in shifts since our oldest son Louis liked to sleep in. Debbie jogged on the beach and came back reporting the waves seemed larger than usual. After breakfast Louis and I decided to go snorkeling. Sam and Debbie would stay at the hotel rather than go to the beach as usual since Sam had been sick. Debbie was going to get a foot massage while Sam waited in the room drawing and watching a movie on his portable DVD player.

At about 9:00 Louis and I headed to the beach. Little did we know that a 9.0 earthquake had already struck about 250 miles away and a Tsunami was heading towards us at jet -liner like speed. We never felt the quake. I tried to talk Louis into walking to the south part of the beach several times as it was windy and it looked more sheltered there. Louis felt it would be just fine if we snorkeled at the north end, so we entered the water there. We snorkeled around for about ten minutes going in and out of rock outcrops. Our plan was to keep working our way out, taking breaks along the way by climbing up on the rocks. After about ten minutes we saw a man fishing. We were worried about being snagged by his lure and we didn’t want to disturb him so we climbed up on the rocks near him intent on reentering the water about 15ft. on the other side of him. We started to talk to him and learned he was English but had married a Thai woman and had lived in Thailand for the last ten years. Louis

We talked with the man for about ten minutes and all of a sudden we noticed that the water level had dropped about ten feet in two minutes. The man said that seeing the water drop like that was strange and he had never experienced this in his ten years there. Nonetheless, he decided to walk around on the rocks to retrieve a lure he had lost earlier. Hundred of fish were stuck on the rocks, desperately trying to flop down to the water. The man kicked at the fish, helping them flop to the water. People in the boats in the harbor began blowing whistles and air horns. I looked around to see what the problem could be. The water level then started to rise rapidly. Within two minutes the water level rose ten feet and continued to rise rapidly. The man was now surrounded with water and we then knew it was vital that we get out of there as quickly as possible. It was at that point that I knew we were experiencing a tsunami. Louis and I started to run and jump urgently from rock to rock, cl

Louis and I climbed into the jungle next to a hotel and continued to climb as fast as we could. Louis was faster than me and kept yelling for me to hurry. He kept telling me to hurry up, he told me that he loved me and I replied the same. We got above the hotel but decided we wanted to get back to Debbie and Sam so we climbed onto a balcony of the hotel, ran through a maze of stairs, through the kitchen, out on a deck, down more stairs, eventually making it to the road. We ran down the road. The beach had been hammered…….all of the umbrellas, massage stands, beach chairs, many boats, etc. had been trashed. The water level was at the road and the water was full of debris. The boats in the harbor had lifted anchor and were heading out of the bay. Mass confusion, much yelling, people running every which way, cars had been moved by the wave, and motor cycles were knocked over. I ran to the building Debbie was in to check on her and found her getting a massage, unaware of the developme

We headed for the upper- most part of the hotel complex where many other guests started to join us. We all stood by a railing and watched things unfold. It became apparent that eventually we were going to have to flee. I ran back to the room to get my backpack, some snacks, and all of the water we had. I found a trail behind the lodge and kept pointing to it saying that is where we are going to climb if things continue to get worse. Three female employees were talking amongst themselves and talking on cell phones in Thai. They were yelling and pointing every which way. It was mass confusion and I could get very little out of them. I decided to hang out with them and kept talking with what appeared to be the most astute one of the group. I kept asking her questions, she would inform me, and I would inform the others. She had heard that there would be one or two more waves. She recommend that we head down the road, not up into the jungle.

In a scene right out of Jurassic Park we ran through the complex eventually making it to the road. All of our passports, all of my money and traveler’s checks, and all of our plane tickets were left behind in the hotel’s safety deposit box. All we had on was our swim suits. We ran as fast as we could. Debbie hailed a taxi that already had two occupants in it. She cried and begged for them to stop. A French couple were inside and they felt sorry for us since we had children, they pulled over and we all crammed in. I asked where they were going and the French man replied “I don’t know”. I said let’s go up the hill to Kata view point. I kept pushing for us to go to Kata view point because it’s about 1,000 ft. above sea level and very safe, but the driver just drove right by the turn-off. The driver seemed very confused, we were all in a state of panic and shouting things to him. He ignored us saying he had to go to Phuket Town because the taxi office is there and he was concer

Once in Phuket Town the six of us jumped out and ran up the road that headed to Patong Beach. We started to ask people for information and ended up talking with a local woman about the worsening situation. Roads were blocked off, policeman were directing traffic, and many cars and trucks full of people were trying to flee. The woman decided we could all jump in her truck and try to make it off the island. Within fifteen minutes there were fifteen of us crammed into a mini pick-up truck. It took us about 1 Ѕ hours to get to the north part of the island where we stopped at a gas station for about thirty minutes. The woman made about ten phone calls and we ran into the station to load up on water, food, and hats to protect us from the sun. By the time we made it to the bridge connecting the island with the mainland one of the bridges was closed due to structural damage. Once on the mainland our anxiety level diminished a bit. We drove for 5 Ѕ hours that day and night. Riding in the b

After dark, we finally arrived at Wat Suan-Mok, The Garden of Liberation, a modern forest Wat (Buddhist monastery) near the city of Chaiya, just north of Surat Thani. The French couple and our family were placed in a bungalow together. We had mats to throw on the floor and were given some blankets. There was a cold shower for us to use. The place had lots of bugs and Sam ended up with many bites, probably from the many red ants. These bite marks would swell up and grow for about a week.

In the morning we had coffee at a local restaurant then a community breakfast of rice, curry, and vegetables within the monastery. I took my favorite photo of our trip of the monks walking slowly head bowed and lining up for food with their bowls. After our meal we were brought to sit respectfully next to the monks while they ate. The monks were sitting by order of age with the eldest and most wisest sitting near us. When they finished eating the eldest monk spoke to my family in English. “Where are you from?” he asked. “America” we replied. We informed him we had experienced the tsunami firsthand.

“ I am 72 years old“. “The world is normal now” he replied. “It is not such a bad time. Life is full of suffering. This is normal. Life is impermanent. We will all live and we will all die. Our bodies may die but our minds live on. Do not be worried about your lives or your possessions since they are all impermanent.” The monks were extremely calm and light-hearted while we of course were just the opposite. This was an incredibly poignant moment. Sitting with the monks in their beautiful saffron colored robes and absorbing their spirit and demeanor.

As we walked out of the monastery we noticed a sign stating that people should get to know the fundamental beliefs of their religion no matter what it is. People should respect other people’s religions.

We all jumped back in the pick-up truck and took Debbie and the kids to the nearby airport. It was very hard leaving my family. Debbie had heard several extremely sad stories while talking with people at the airport. A young couple were trying to get back to Germany as soon as possible to get to a hospital. While escaping the tsunami the woman was bit by a snake. Although she was given medicine at a local hospital she was unable to walk because of the pain. They were unsure of her outcome because they didn’t know what type of snake it was. Another woman and her four young children wearing only beach clothes and with bare feet were so distraught. They had spent the night in the jungle terrified and unable to find the father. The next day they caught a taxi ride but had to pay for it with her wedding ring since she had no money. He was presumed dead. They were covered with mosquito bites. They had no money so an older gentleman at the airport offered to buy them plane tickets home.

We headed back to Phuket to get our luggage. About an hour down the road one of our fellow passengers was talking on her cell phone and learned of another wave due to hit in the afternoon. This was enough for me! I knocked on the car window, asked the driver to pull over, and jumped out. I didn’t want to spend another day wondering if the rumors were true or not. I didn’t want to spend another day looking to see if the water was surging in around us. In fact Phuket did receive several quakes and after shocks that day. I gave the French couple the keys to our safety deposit box and a permission slip to remove the items. I also asked him to get my glasses out of our room since I only had my prescription sun glasses with me. Our plan was to meet them in Bangkok and get our valuables there. I hired some guys to take me back to the airport, and my family and I flew to Bangkok.

While in Bangkok we tried for several days to contact our hotel in Phuket but they never answered. We went to the U.S. Embassy, applied for new passports and were eventually told the good news that our passports had turned up. I asked how they got them and they said they just showed up in a blank envelope. I thought our hotel in Phuket must have been trashed and someone ran off with our valuables leaving behind our passports. The next morning I got a call at 2:00 AM from Luc, our French friend, informing me he was already back in Paris. He had very little time between his flight connection in Bangkok and gave our passports to a Thai Air staff member. He wasn’t sure if he could trust this person with all of my money so he just gave this man our passports and told him to give them to the U.S. Embassy. He would send my money through certified mail soon. He also still had my glasses. I walked around Bangkok like a CIA agent wearing prescription sunglasses all day and night for the nex

Three days later I flew back to Phuket to get our luggage. Four people had died on Nai Harn beach on Sunday and they had found another body the day I returned. I helped clean up the beach for awhile. It was like working in a garbage dump with the stench and debris everywhere. I cried as I worked, dumping shoes, bottles, and smaller debris into large plastic garbage bags. We pulled many tangled, bent umbrellas, lawn chairs, clothing, and frameworks from buildings out of the debris. Larger pieces of debris were thrown onto the road and later loaded into trucks. After an area was cleaned of debris and only sand was left a backhoe would dig down about four feet, pick up it’s contents, and slowly dump it out looking for bodies.

I talked with the staff at our hotel. They all asked many times if I would come back to Thailand and I promised them we would. The all seemed to be worried that tourists wouldn’t return and their livelihood would be affected.

Back in Bangkok with our luggage we went out to celebrate Louis’ sixteenth birthday. The next day on the flight home he got extremely sick on the plane. We had to have a doctor paged to check him out. He was extremely cold and threw up most of the trip home. He was stable so he just had to endure the rest of the flight time. We had another twelve hours of flying so it seemed like an eternity for Louis. Once home he felt much better. He even went out and celebrated his birthday again. Since we had crossed the International Dateline he would get another birthday!

My family had a very traumatic experience but we are so thankful and so lucky compared to the several hundred-thousand people in the world who are suffering from the largest natural disaster in modern history,

We would encourage people to travel to Thailand to experience these wonderful people and see the incredible sites. We truly believe they are some of the most beautiful people on earth. The Thais have such a sweet disposition. They truly do care about you. Our hearts go out to them and their families. Our family would also encourage people to donate money to a relief agency.

Jeff

Bellingham, WA.

------------second message

Sent: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 11:52 PM

Subject: Re: Another Greeting from all of us....

 

Hi,  Want you to know I got your message.  We are constantly checking the e mail since we are killing time in Bangkok.  We are staying in a wonderful hotel hooked on to a huge mall complex for shopping, movies, etc.  so we are in good shape. 

 

Looks like we will not be able to fly home until Jan. 1st.  We got our passports back and all of my money and glasses ended up in France with a friend we escaped with....very long story.  Debbie has a credit card and money so we are Okay. 

 

I called Mark as soon as I could because his was the only number I could rememer in my head.  When we fled we just had our bathing suits on and left everything. 

 

We are all kind of traumatized and this will take along time to process.   Louis and I saw people swimming and struggling when we fled.  Louis and I are really lucky.  We were in and out of the water and just so happened to be standing on the rocks when things changed so rapidly.  We could have easily been stuck in the water.  The Thai people are the best people in the world. It is the most helpful, safe, place you could imagine. 

 

I will call when I get home and check email daily for updates.  Our luggage is in Phuket and I might go there in the morning and try to return in the evening but they might send it here so I don't have to go.  I will know more later today. 

 

Thanks for the nice note.  Love, Jeff

 

-------------- Original message --------------

Jeff, Debbie, Louis, and Sam;

Can't help but wonder how you are all doing.  Can't imagine....or fathom what you've been through.  Just want you four to know that we've all been thinking and praying for your safe return home.   Quickly.....

 

I'll fly out as soon as I can. I want to hear it all from you when you debrief everyone in BellinghamTalk about it. Be with you.  I'm taping hours of CNN for you.  I don't know how much you are able to see on TV.  Unbelievable.  Phuket and Sri Lanka dominate the news at this point.

 

Terry tracked me down at the PD. I've been in touch with Christy, who tracked Myrna down in Paris.  We've kept everyone informed...  I told Christy I was going to call my Bellingham PD friend Hutch.  I wanted him to take the hidden key in the garage and go into the house to get me a bunch of phone numbers.  Christy told me you took the hidden key.  Oh well, I'd of tought of plan "B" if I didn't hear from you.

 

Louie and Sam.............I'm really glad your Dad is who he is.  He knows his stuff.  What a keen sense he has about him.  Your parents are two great people who will protect you and get you home safely.

 

Give each other a big hug for me.  I love you all.  See you soon?!?!?!

Ron

PS  Louie.........Will you be home for your Birthday??  If not, HAPPY BIRTHDAY LOUIE!!!!!!

 

Can't believe that the big concern over Thanksgiving was getting the flu... Wow, if one only knew the future......

 

……………….first message

 

Hi everyone,  just want to let you know we are fine but having some difficulties in Bangkok.  I will give a quick review of our story first.  We were staying at a hotel in the Pukhet area (on the beach) Nai Harn Beach when the waves came.  Louis and I were actually swimming, we decided to climb on some rocks to avoid a man fishing from the rocks.  We climbed on the rocks, talked to him for awhile and noticed the water level drop about 10 feet in 2 minutes.  We all thought this was strange.  The water level then came up about 15 feet in about 2 minutes and continued to rise rapidly.  Louis and I ran across the rocks and climbed up into the jungle by a hotel.  The man we were talking to was swept into the water as was another nearby.  Louis and I made it back to our hotel and we all stood and watched the surge and retreat of the water.  After one hour we were informed ther …..

 

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