Saturday, January 08, 2005

Heading towards "normal"?

Some of the staff at school have been in touch with the heads of villages in Phang Nga province and the word is that they have enough food, water, and clothing, but the next necessity is cooking equipment, e.g., utensils, dishes, cutlery, cooking oil, simple gas stoves, and non-electric rice cookers. An appeal to the whole school community will go out Monday, with each classroom assigned to collect for a village. Other discussions of where best to apply money and energy continue. My own personal project will be to buy books for school libraries, with the help of Thanasak, the Thai teacher/librarian I work with.

After a full month of school holiday, we start up again on Monday -- but what a difference a month makes. The staff have been counselled in how to support the children -- with the basic message being we should expect and accept a wide range of behaviours --just be there for them, alert to any need. It was stressed that we should have a "normal" first week, with not much homework.

It still seems a miracle that Dulwich has not lost a single student or staff member. That's not to say the community is undamaged. Some students and their families were injured, and some of their extended family members have died (though no parents, as far as we know). As for our staff, the one teacher who had gone to Sri Lanka is evidently unharmed and we look forward to hearing his tale when he returns. The worst story concerns our art teacher, now recuperating in a hospital up in Bangkok for a severe leg injury. She was on Phi Phi with her family -- which is now halved. She, her mother, and a brother survived; her father, a brother, and a sister didn't.

In the library I've put up a display entitled "2005 -- a new year, a new beginning", promoting over 100 brand-new books. I'm still trying to decide what picture books I'll be reading to the younger ones -- what story offers hope and a happy ending, while still addressing whatever they have suffered? On a more sober note, the school counselors have been in to check what books we have on death and disasters. I'll certainly be expanding that collection in the coming months.

Today is Children's Day in Thailand -- the second Saturday in January being set aside for parents to take their children out for fun events and to publicly celebrate children as the most valuable resource of the nation. The high number of children lost in the tsunumai will make this a particularly emotional day for some.

Amidst all the turmoil of the tsunami, the possibility that some children who survived have now been abducted or sexually abused adds another level of horror. There was a report in the news about a 12-year-old Swedish boy who disappeared from a hospital in Thailand and was feared to have been abducted. According to an update in the Phuket Gazette (www.phuketgazette.com) he is now considered just 'missing'.

It reminded me of the man who came into the Dulwich relief centre early on New Year's Eve with a photograph of an attractive 11-year-old blonde European boy. He wanted help producing a poster and an online message reporting him as 'missing'. The man was very reluctant to have us publish much information about the boy and kept phoning his embassy asking for approval of the wording in English. The boy had survived Khao Lak relatively unharmed and had been put on a bus with other survivors heading to Phuket City Hall on Dec. 27th -- but all trace of him then disappeared. This was four days later and the man was clearly worried that foul play was involved. We were shocked at the suggestion. Meanwhile, the boy's parents are back in Europe, lying in a hospital, severely injured. That's a story I want to know the ending of...


Beach by beach summary of damage and current state

Phuket Magazine is producing updated summaries of different areas of Phuket affected by the tsunami on its website. It is particularly interesting for local residents in its details of the individual beaches and resorts, though people not necessarily familiar with Phuket might just appreciate the editors' overall summary:

Most of the hotels and resorts that were caught by the wave are reporting very minor damage – averaging between 15 and 20 rooms each. Of the several hundred hotels and guest houses that the island has to offer, only a dozen or so have been completely closed down and most have received no damage whatsoever. All that we were able to contact claim that full service will be returned in just a couple of weeks. It should also be noted that damage caused by the tsunami on Phuket has directly affected less than ten percent of the island.

The weight of human loss and loss of livelihoods that it has wrought, and that which is still yet to come to light, is of course immeasurable. To all those people affected, we send out our most heartfelt condolences. We know you are many and we hope that we can be as strong as you and stand beside you in the months to come.

It is the Thai people who, in what would be considered overwhelming circumstances for many westerners, are quietly, stoically, cleaning up and beginning the rebuilding work on Phuket. It is a scene repeated up and down the coast. There are no scenes of wailing desperation, so beloved of CNN and BBC, despite the enormous tasks that face them.

Where foreign tourists have fled the “terror”, the Thai people are still here. Despite their losses – and that’s not just a few suitcases of clothes – there are no mercy flights to whisk them away. They will be here throughout all that is to come. The Thai people of Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga are the heroes here, for it is they who have lost the most and they will be the ones who take on the task of rebuilding the Pearl of the Andaman.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Donations - where?

The major international aid agencies (Red Cross etc) are now in full swing helping victims of the disaster in the region. I have been asked by many people who want to help - where should I send money? The international agencies are doing fantastic work so that is a good place to start with your donations. They are helping with the vital and immediate task of feeding and providing medical care for the millions of people effected.

I have decided to provide financial support to the long term rebuilding of the local communities in Phang Nga, the worst hit region in our area. These communities have relied principally on fishing and tourism in the past. Tourism has gone for the foreseeable future and the fishing equipment is at best severely damaged. Schools and hospitals are piles of rubble and many of the teachers and medical staff are no longer with us.

This is NOT a request for donations but rather if you are going to give anyway and want to steer your money towards some very specific local projects on the coast of Thailand then I will ensure that the money you donate is directed to rebuild Thai communities in Phang Nga.

Contact me if you wish to donate funds.

David

PS I have expanded on the details in Email #6 below

A fair complaint

10 AM, January 1, 2005

Read the above linked AP article how Thais are complaining of the priority and extra comfort levels provided to foreigners.... The international school mentioned can only be Dulwich....

Yesterday was spent helping the remnant of survivors left at Dulwich either get on their way or settle down to a somber New Year's Eve. Few new foreign survivors are showing up at our doors; most of the boarding house residents are now consular staff, doctors, nurses, and rescue teams. I stayed in the relief centre until about 10:00 PM, then went over to one of the boarding houses to have a drink with a group of teachers. The main topic of conversation seemed to be cholera. The biology teacher said if it breaks out, we need to get off the island. Another example of the economic disparity between the locals and foreigners. We obviously could afford to get off the island.... So that led to another discussion -- what can we do to help the locals in the long term.

I suggested the Dulwich community might focus some of their aid and charity efforts on schools. We heard there are at least 35 schools in danger of not opening this coming week due to damage to both outside and inside (not to mention the human issues). Perhaps we could re-fit those schools, offer our facilities on weekends for their use, and/or sponsor the cost of schooling for Thai families whose homes and livelihoods were affected by the tsunami. We have a whole staff meeting on Wednesday morning (though the start of school has been delayed until Monday the 10th) and I expect the headmaster to address the issue.

One sort of positive story from yesterday: the Norwegian family who lost the baby got news of a successful DNA match with a dead baby in Krabi. After days of visiting hospitals and morgues, they had decided to give up and return to Norway. Then the call came through. So they are travelling today to pick up the body to take it back to Norway. At least they know what happened to him. I heard that the procedure for logging corpses involved taking a photograph, getting fingerprints, and taking a swab from the inside of the mouth for DNA matching purposes. What a nasty job that must be.



Thursday, December 30, 2004

Thoughts on Friday AM -- New Year's Eve day

I caught bits of the news late last night and this morning. Not surprising to hear the fatalities are over 114,000 now. We are just as dependent upon those news sources as anyone else. And in the early days, I was mentally critical of the initial reporters on the scene in Phuket, wondering why they weren't interviewing anyone in authority here -- say, the governor of Phuket, a police chief, or even just a long-term foreigner. Someone who might have provided a bit more perspective on that first day or two, e.g., that Phuket is a big island with a big mountain range down the middle and the wave definitely did not touch its central infrastructure of hospitals, food, water, police, etc.

However, it's hard not to be wary of the press. Many reporters have called Dulwich -- whether ones from a particular country wanting to know if we have people of their nationality there that they could interview -- or just wanting a general story. Yet the last thing we want to do is make some survivor re-live their ordeal for the camera or microphone.

One reporter plus cameraman from a major news company arrived on campus and while the reporter sat interviewing the headmaster in a side room, his cameraman managed to snag an old Scandinavian gentleman mourning his wife and get him to sniffle through his story on film. We were all horrified, and when the two returned a second time looking for more footage, we quickly produced a staff member who had a happy, miraculous survival tale to tell -- to keep them away from our guests.

(This young Australian man had felt the earthquake in the morning and recognized it as such, and had even half wondered about possible wave effects. He then went down to an empty beach in Bang Tao (on Phuket island) for a morning swim and stood on the shore wondering why the tide was out so far and why there were so many fish stranded on the wet sand. As he stood there, the "tide" started to come in, and come in fast. Suddenly he was up to his waist in water. He said he still didn't twig that this was related to the earthquake until the second surge followed. Amazingly, he managed to surf the front of the surge, relaxing into the wave and steering away from trees, before finally being dumped inland, with just a scratch on his foot.)

Forgive me for speaking only about foreigners -- people wealthy enough to fly to Thailand for a Christmas holiday in the sun -- given the magnitude of destruction on the local populations in Indonesia and elsewhere. But pitching in at Dulwich -- to facilitate the ordeal for these tourists in a foreign country -- has been the most obvious and easiest way for me to contribute during this first week.

Many of you have asked us where you should donate money. I honestly can't recommend a particular charity. If you go to The Phuket Gazette (www.phuketgazette.com), there is information about where to send money for Thailand. However, I keep thinking of the poorer countries....

The searches for the missing -- and the fading hope

Took my husband to the airport first thing this morning to catch his scheduled flight back to Vietnam. While there I hit the departures desks and wrote down information on today’s flights – both regular and extra “relief” (free) ones Then back to Dulwich to post it on the wall outside the relief centre there and to see who might be interested in what flight today.

As of yesterday, we are not registering as many people in need of accommodation; most of the walking wounded foreigners have managed to get home. The major task now is counseling and aiding the survivors who remain in order to continue the search for missing family members. This involves intense internet searching of patient lists as well as trying to match the many digital photographs of the missing and the dead. We also have volunteers driving these people out to hospitals near and far to physically comb the wards for loved ones – as well as to the many temporary morgues.

In the early afternoon I took two women up to the airport to try to arrange flights. Both have husbands missing and both are loath to leave until all hope is gone.

The German woman had been up in Khao Lak in a bungalow when the tsunami hit. She was thrown directly out the back door far into the jungle. She doesn’t remember landing – she woke up in the back of a pick-up truck – and she limped into our school on Monday night, looking very battered. Today we managed to get her a ticket and boarding pass for a flight back to Germany.

She was so torn about leaving – wanting to get home and heal in the comfort of family and friends, yet afraid of deserting her husband wherever he is. When I drove her back to the airport this evening, she told me how she’s had repeated dreams of waves and drowning for the past year – dreams that she couldn’t explain away. She frets now how her husband had wanted to go to South America this year, not to Thailand again. But that he gave in to her, knowing how much she loves the country. I asked her if she thinks she will ever return. She hesitantly said, yes. She doesn’t blame the country and can only believe this is her fate which the dreams foretold.

The other woman is British and was on Phi Phi island with her family when the wave hit. She and her daughter have also been at Dulwich for several days – bruised and distraught. Luckily her sister and brother-in-law flew in to help. Today her brother-in-law today was driven over to Phang Nga and Krabi to search the hospitals and morgues for her husband, while she and her sister went to the airport with me to see about flights. She thinks she might be psychologically ready to fly to Bangkok tomorrow, but not to leave the country. She just can’t give up hope.

The people I feel sorriest for right now are the Norwegian family who came in from Khao Lak with their two little boys. They’re searching for the young baby that somehow came out of the father’s arms in the water. Identifying babies over the internet and via photos is difficult. Time hasn’t etched distinctive features onto their faces yet. Whenever one of the parents starts sobbing, all of us in hearing distance well up in tears.

At this stage, the searches are fairly hopeless.

Having said that, we were all thrilled to hear yesterday that a German woman, who had arrived at Dulwich with her daughter on Monday in a terrible state – both physically and mentally, had just heard news of her husband being alive. He had been found wandering somewhere in just his bathing trunks. Okay, the son is still missing, but at least one of them was found.

Those are the stories we live for.

Phuket Gazette

This is the local English-language weekly. Might be interesting for you to read some of the articles.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

www.onethailand.com

This is a good website listing sites to search for names of victims and survivors.

However, do not go looking through the "Photos of unidentified bodies" sites unless you have a strong stomach. I simply don't know how survivors can stand to do it...



More earthquakes

There was not just one earthquake but many and they continue today as two plates collide along the fault line that runs north from Sumatra. The Indian plate is pushing under the Eurasian plate which is the cause of these earthquakes. The earthquake strength scale is logerithmic so a 7.0 is twice as big as a 6.0.

Below is a list of the 63 earthquakes over 4.5 strength that have shaken the region since the biggest earthquake on 26th December. Bold indicates earthquakes that we felt in Phuket and that caused tsunamis.

Strength Date Time
9.0 26 December 2004 7:58 AM
6.2 26 December 2004 08:21 AM
5.8 26 December 2004 08:48 AM
5.7 26 December 2004 09:15 AM
5.9 26 December 2004 09:22 AM
5.7 26 December 2004 09:34 AM
5.9 26 December 2004 09:36 AM
6.0 26 December 2004 09:52 AM
5.8 26 December 2004 09:59 AM
5.9 26 December 2004 10:08 AM
5.8 26 December 2004 10:17 AM
5.4 26 December 2004 11:10 AM
7.5 26 December 2004 11:21 AM
5.5 26 December 2004 01:22 PM
5.6 26 December 2004 02:07 PM
5.8 26 December 2004 02:38 PM
6.6 26 December 2004 4:20 PM
5.5 26 December 2004 05:18 PM
6.3 26 December 2004 05:19 PM
5.6 26 December 2004 05:51 PM
6.3 26 December 2004 06:05 PM
5.4 26 December 2004 07:09 PM
5.5 26 December 2004 07:11 PM
5.9 26 December 2004 08:56 PM
5.8 26 December 2004 09:48 PM
6.1 26 December 2004 10:06 PM
5.5 26 December 2004 10:12 PM
5.3 27 December 2004 01:42 AM
5.5 27 December 2004 02:03 AM
6.2 27 December 2004 02:19 AM
5.4 27 December 2004 07:24 AM
6.0 27 December 2004 07:32 AM
6.1 27 December 2004 07:49 AM
5.0 27 December 2004 12:10 PM
4.7 27 December 2004 12:16 PM
5.4 27 December 2004 01:59 PM
6.1 27 December 2004 04:39 PM
5.6 27 December 2004 04:57 PM
6.0 27 December 2004 05:05 PM
5.2 27 December 2004 05:46 PM
5.4 27 December 2004 05:46 PM
5.1 27 December 2004 06:57 PM
5.8 27 December 2004 09:46 PM
5.4 28 December 2004 02:28 AM
5.8 28 December 2004 03:10 AM
5.9 28 December 2004 06:17 PM
5.8 29 December 2004 08:39 AM
6.1 29 December 2004 08:50 AM
6.2 29 December 2004 12:56 PM
5.6 30 December 2004 01:50 AM
5.7 30 December 2004 04:12 AM
5.6 30 December 2004 08:04 AM
5.5 30 December 2004 11:27 AM
4.9 30 December 2004 01:38 PM
5.5 31 December 2004 00:34 AM
5.9 31 December 2004 00:58 AM
6.3 31 December 2004 09:24 AM
5.4 31 December 2004 16:57 PM
5.5 31 December 2004 17:58 PM
6.1 31 December 2004 19:04 PM
5.6 31 December 2004 20:41 PM
5.6 31 December 2004 21:38 PM
5.1 31 December 2004 23:15 PM
5.4 1 January 2005 00:48 AM

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Chat excerpts - Dec 29, 2004

These are excerpts from a web chat I had with my sister Peggy (here in Maine), my brother-in-law David (in Phuket), and my sister Katie (in Phuket). It took place at about 8:00pm on Dec 28th here in Maine ... 8:00am on Dec 29th in Phuket:


Peggy says:
David! how RU?

David says:
shell shocked - in the end did not get to bed until after 2am - was talking to Sam and Max about what we had experienced during the day

<...>


Katie says:
I'll just finish my coffee, shower, and head over to school...
slowly but surely those people able to leave on planes will do so, then it will be concentrating on the ones missing people

David says:
as Katie pointed out at least everyone will have heard of Phuket now

Katie says:
the start of school has been delayed until the 10th and next week the school will run programs (include counselling) for local kids, both Thai and Dulwich ones

Katie says:
yes, funny way for everyone to learn where Phuket is located

David says:
a number of helecopters just went over, we dont often get helecopters but they have been regular interuptions over the past 3 days

Martha says:
Is your water supply okay? The news here is full of concern about disease from lack of water, clean food, etc.

Katie says:
we just really feel so lucky to be alive, together, and untouched

Katie says:
lack of water on Phuket isn't a problem -- it's up north and on the islands -- for instance, yesterday a call went out for food and water for Khao Lak, but then within hours the message was they have plenty, send supplies further to the mainland on the east

Katie says:
carloads of Dulwich staff are driving over to Phang Nga and Krabi today with supplies

David says:
the communication delay is a problem - it looks like by the time we get to hear that help is needed then the problem is already solved

David says:
in Khao Lak yesterday there were piles of bottled water everywhere but no one to drink it

Martha says:
Wow.

<..>

Peggy says:
I'm very glad, David, that you were there
not that Katie couldn't handle it but it's one of those instances where you want your loved ones around you - and good for the boys

Katie says:
yes, I'm glad he was here to be with us...

Peggy says:
how long will/can you stay, David?

David says:
I am glad i took them to Khao Lak, a sobering experience but they have real repect for the power of the sea now

David says:
I will leave tomorrow to return to Vietnam

Peggy says:
wow, can you get out?

David says:
getting out from the airport appears not to be a problem

Peggy says:
you can get out but others can't get in?

David says:
i dont know of a problem of people getting in, the thai government are discouraging anyone from travelling to Phuket who does not need to so there are lots of empty seats on the inbound flights

<...>

David says:
talking of photos its strange I took my camera with me yesterday but thinks were so bad I couldn't bring myself to take any photos, just seemed so disrespectful of all the dead

Martha says:
I can only imagine.

Peggy says:
I don't want to imagine ...

Peggy says:
so how are the boys dealing with it all?

David says:
I talked to them at length last night - they are doing fine.

Peggy says:
so awful .. I was 38 before I saw a dead person (and was proud of that record ...)

Peggy says:
but a lesson that is good ...

Peggy says:
they might not think so now but the experience ...

David says:
i was thinking that before this i had seen 2 dead people, its a bit different now!

Peggy says:
and most of the dead we've seen (at least me) are elderly

David says:
yes its very different walking down lines of dead 4 year olds trying to find one dressed in a swedish football kit

Peggy says:
who can respond after that ... I'd want a glass of wine even if it is 8 AM for you ... must make you kiss your wife & children ...

David says:
yup ... a lot

<...>

Peggy says:
how come Katie is so silent ?

David says:
she is on the phone to the school sorting out some logistics for people there

David says:
there were 300 night before last, we dont know how many last night

Peggy says:
no words ... an experience you won't forget ... and one you shouldn't but ...

Peggy says:
it does make one think how sheltered we Americans are ... even tho it's a natural disaster, we think it won't happen here ...

Peggy says:
60,000 people dead on the news tonight

David says:
I know there has to be a local angle on news stories but Sam pointed out to me the main headline on 2 news web sites last night, BBC "33,000 dead" fox news web site "11 Americans die" - not sure why he was looking at fox news

Katie says:
I'm back.. but really should get in the shower and over to school. I'm feeling guilty sitting here.....

Peggy says:
really, it's so sad that it's only focused on the "tourists" ... but I was glad to hear the 60,000 only in that that will make an impact - it's too large to even fathom ... then the WHO says they think that many could die from diseases afterwards ...


Peggy says:
go take care of others ...

Katie says:
I'll make sure he and the boys wear masks and take gloves if they're going near dead bodies.....

Peggy says:
thank you ...
and keep the emails coming .. if you can ... it does help

Martha says:
I know it sounds lame, but be careful ...and let us know if there is anything we can do from here.

David says:
dont think we will be getting that close, 72 hours in the tropics does not do much to preserve a dead body




Email #6 - Dec 28, 2004

From David - Dec 28, 2004:

It is midnight on Tuesday and we are just winding down after a very sad day

Katie and I went to Dulwich school first thing in the morning to check on who had arrived during the night and see what help we could provide. Katie took over the registration desk (keeping track of who was arriving, leaving and which family members they had lost). The school is being used as temporary accommodation for anyone who has ended up homeless as a result of the tsunami who is not in a critical medical condition. There is food, water, clothing donated by local families and medical care. The boarding houses were filled up with mattresses being separated from their bases to make 2 beds. In addition all the exercise mate were put out in the gym to accommodate more people.

I took a Swedish father and daughter to hospital in Phuket Town who had arrived from Khao Lak (a tourist resort in Phang Nga province on the Thai mainland north of Phuket island) the previous night. Peter (the father), a fireman from Sweden had been on holiday with his wife, mother-in-law, 6 year old daughter (Fanny) and 4 year old son. They had been asleep at 8am when the tsunami picked up their beach chalet and smashed it into pieces and left them in the water. He found his daughter at the local police station on Sunday afternoon but has no idea if anyone else in his family has survived. He feels there is little hope for his mother-in-law but is praying that his wife and son have ended up in a hospital somewhere. On Sunday night there was a rumor that another tsunami was coming so they were taken to the nearest hills a distance of many miles. Peter has bad damage to his leg so it was very painful to run/walk all that way. They spent Sunday night in the forest before coming down on Monday and eventually being brought by pick up truck late Monday night to Dulwich school.

We went to Vachira hospital for 2 reasons, firstly there was a boy there who matched the description of their missing 4 year old son and secondly they were badly lacerated and needed medical attention. We got to the hospital, found Peter a wheel chair and checked in at the temporary reception built at the front of the hospital. There were convoys of ambulances and pick-up trucks arriving all the time delivering victims of the disaster. They are all from remote islands around Phuket or from Phang Nga province on the Thai mainland north of Phuket. The victims on Phuket has all been admitted during the previous 2 days. One of the staff then offered to take us to see the boy however it became unclear whether we were going to identify a live or dead child. Peter could not easily move through the mayhem in the wheel chair and was struggling to deal with the prospect of identifying a corpse so Fanny went with a nurse to check if it was her brother. Fanny was gone for about 30 minutes so I talked to Peter about anything I could think of that was not to do with the disaster. Being with someone during that very long 30 mins while they wait to find out if their son is dead or alive is very emotionally draining but obviously nothing compared to being in that position yourself.

The boy was alive but sadly was not the missing son, the hospital has no idea where the family of the boy in the hospital was maybe he has no family left.

We then queued up to get treatment for Peter and Fanny, there were many people with much worse injuries than them. Peter had many stitches put in his legs and wounds on the rest of his body dressed. I held Fanny’s hand while the staff cleaned out the lacerations on her legs. The wounds were now over 2 days old so had started to heal over the dirt. The staff had to open up the wounds to clean them before resealing them. Fanny was very brave as she was put through a lot more pain. On the next bed was a man who was having the left side of his face stitched back on to his head, the right side is still hanging off. One bed over another victim has lifted onto the bed, they removed some bandages and support below his knee and most of his foot and lower leg just fell off onto the sheets. Fanny was cleaned up before Peter so I took her to the donations of clothing to find her and Peter some clean clothes – their only possessions are what they were wearing. Fanny chose a t shirt and shorts for herself and her Dad, found some flip flops, a back pack to put spare clothes in and a teddy bear!

After getting treatment for Peter and Fanny we tried to telephone other staff from Dulwich school who were located in various hospitals and the provincial hall to check that there was no one matching Peter’s family description. We got through to some, not others, the mobile telephone network is completely overloaded. There was no point in remaining at the hospital so I brought them back to the school. Peter and Fanny got some food then went back to the dormitory to sleep and pray.

The school received a request for people to go and help put coffins together at Khao Lak, it was becoming clearer that there was a large scale disaster unfolding up there. There were now more than enough volunteer drivers to take care of local shuttles so I drove home picked up Sam, Max, bottled water, food, hammers and nails and we drove to the Khao Lak Watt (temple) about 1 hour north of where we live.

We found the Watt and parked the pick up. We walked over to the stacks of coffins and offered our services however they had finished putting together all the coffins they had (which were not nearly enough). There were piles of coffins stacked up with the lids on containing the remains of bodies that had been identified. There were then row upon row of coffins with lids off where the bodies were yet to be identified. There were also further rows of bodies laid out of the grass where they had run out of coffins. You could tell the difference between corpses that had been in the water rather than dumped on land as they were swollen up. Across the sea of corpses limbs stuck up in the air frozen into place by rigormortis. We looked at the rows of dead bodies in and not in coffins for anyone who matched the description of the missing relatives of people who were staying at the school. There were about 200 unidentified bodies at the Watt at the time but none that matched the descriptions I had although for a lot of them they were too badly damaged to identify so I could not be sure. Pick up trucks laden down with more corpses were arriving constantly and being unloaded into rows on the grass however there appeared to be little point in staying there so we went back to the car. A thought occurred to me that in the first 43 years of my life I had only seen 2 dead people, both adults someone gunned down in New York although I was quite a distance from it and only found out the next day that the man had died and a body floating down the Mekong river in Cambodia. Now in the space of less than an hour I had seen hundreds and they ranged from babies through children to the elderly.

We then drove further north as we had been asked to go to the Sofitel hotel at Khao Lak resort to offer to bring back any survivors to the school so they could be evacuated from the area. Khao Lak is a tourist resort with about 6,000 rooms built around a crescent shaped sandy beach surrounded by a natural amphitheater of hills. We drove up a slope and over the crest of the hill where the Khao Lak resort came into view. I had last been to Khao lak a few months ago to visit friends who were on holiday there. Khao Lak is not built up like Phuket resorts but low rise buildings a lot made from local wood that nestle at the base of the amphitheater along the coastline.

It is difficult to describe the impact of the scene of complete carnage that unfolded as we drove over the hill and into Khao Lak. The first thing to hit you was the white sandy beach was no longer white but completely covered with debris. The resorts that line the coast were ……. just not there anymore, nor were the trees or anything that had been standing between the sea and the road, a distance of about 500m. As we drove down the hill at the entrance to each resort was crowds of people and pick up trucks ….. laden down with bodies. Some were partially wrapped in sheets, some were just lying there. There were bodies laid out by the side of the road having been retrieved from where the resorts were.

Unlike Phuket Island there is no off-shore reef to slow down the tsunami at Khao Lak so the coast had taken the full hit of the wave traveling at 500 miles per hour. The whole area (apart from the road that had been ploughed) was covered with 10ft high piles of debris, the power and telephone lines were all down, there were overturned vehicles that had been bent in half, collapsed buildings, you could see how high the water had been as the first floor balconies of buildings on the right of the road were piled up with debris.

There were many Japanese emergency recovery teams that has been flown in, they have been specially trained for dealing with the aftermath of a disaster like this and it was impressive that they were on the ground in numbers helping recover bodies.

As we drove along the road each gathering of people only meant one thing – another body being extracted from a ditch, a pile of debris, a vehicle …….. There were people walking up from the beach in pairs with a pole over their shoulders, each pair had a body slung from the pole. We could now see an area of beach as the road got closer to the shore and as I focused on the shapes of debris on the beach it became clear they were bodies – who knows haw many.

Back hoes were being used to turn over the piles of debris until someone spotted a limb, stopped the machine, pulled out the body on to the side of the road and then continued. We saw many hundreds of bodies lying along the stretch of road we drove and this was clearly only the tip of the iceberg.

We passed a bus barley visible under the water by the road.

When we got to the Sofitel there was very little left of the hotel and no survivors left at the scene so we turned around. To try to give you an idea this is a 350 room hotel built from concrete and bricks on the beach that has been completely decimated, only piles of rubble remain.

About ½ a mile inland up in some trees we could see a steel police ship that was at least 150ft long.

We drove back to Phuket and stopped at the airport to see how many of the tourists staying at the school could be flown to Bangkok that night. The airport was packed but well organized. Thai airlines is putting on extra flights to Bangkok that are free to anyone until the area is cleared so we went back to the school to pass on the news and work out how to get as many people to the airport as we could.

Communications has been a real problem as the mobile phone network is completely overloaded so SMS messages were the only way to communicate and they were often delayed for some hours before being delivered.

I took Sam, Max and another friend home for some food while Katie helped organize getting people to the airport and checking in new arrivals at the school. There are still people arriving from outlying areas 60 hours after the event as well as doctors and consular staff from Bangkok who are staying at the school.

Hopefully tomorrow will bring better times for all


Email #5 - Dec 28, 2004

From David - Dec 28, 2004 - including a link to a BBC article:

David saw this story on BBC News Online and thought youshould see it.

** Message **Sam, Max and I were here today, we went to help put coffins together for the dead

** Hundreds dead in Thai resort

**Thai officials say more than 700 people have died at Khao Lak resort in the south of the country near Phuket.< http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/4129417.stm >



Monday, December 27, 2004

Email #4 - Dec 27, 2004

From Katie - Dec 27, 2004:


Just spent the day at school – Dulwich -- manning the registration desk for people needing shelter for a night (or until they can find a next staging ground – whether a flight home or whatever).

Very sobering. Adults catatonically distraught at the loss of a spouse (with me not knowing whether they already knew it was hopeless or whether the spouse was just ‘missing’ – so just having to say, “Now what is your name? Where are you from? Where were you staying?”). People with severe cuts, bruises, and wounds – all over their bodies. Others just lost – mentally and physically -- from the experience. Most were tourists, but there were also many Thais among the 200 odd I checked in, e.g., doctors and nurses, flown down from Bangkok. Other Thais were staff from resorts up the coast which were ruined (along with the staff housing).

Dulwich teachers went out to hospitals, helping those walking wounded being released find a place to stay until flying out, and to the Phuket city hall, where the embassy staff had desks, issuing temporary travel permits/passports. They would collect people needing a place to stay and vanloads would then descend upon Dulwich and we would assign them to boarding houses. Embassy staff were also staying at Dulwich, but they’re not expected to show up to sleep until late tonight.

Some Dulwich staff – experts at diving – spent the day searching submerged carparks and buildings/cellars in Patong, looking for bodies.

Most of the people coming in today were from the outlying areas – e.g., the island of Phi Phi and the northern shores of Khao Lak – not from on Phuket island. These refugees had spent the night either in the jungle or in primitive medical areas, before being driven down to Phuket – the major metropolis.

We heard the British embassy was bringing in extra staff – so we needed extra beds – and the rumour was that the British government was flying in special planes to take out the British citizens. Most of the people I registered were German or Swedish or Finnish. (Those Nordic countries really love the sun in the middle of winter….)

Then there was a call for A Negative blood – a rare blood type among Asians. Several of the traumatized foreigners were willing to climb into a mini-van for a long trek and wait at a local hospital to give blood – knowing what a difference it would make.

Heard horrible stories of babies and children being swept away. Most of the Dulwich staff is now accounted for. The art teacher was finally located after being medically evacuated from Phi Phi Island. We only know she is “ok”. Another teacher had gone to Sri Lanka for the Xmas holiday. We’ve given up on him.

Tomorrow I imagine my day will be spent ferrying people to Phuket Town (where the embassy reps are stationed) or to the airport (where there are shuttle services to Bangkok).

It’s all so sad.

-- Katie


Email #3 - Dec 27, 2004

From Katie - Dec 27, 2004 - an expanded version of Email #1:


Just to let you know – though I know you would have checked with Westbrook if you were worried. Yes, we’re all safe.

We definitely felt the quake. Yesterday morning David and I were each sitting at computers downstairs at 8 AM and suddenly began to feel sick to our stomachs as things in front of our eyes began to move – it was the house starting to shake. And it kept on shaking slowly but surely. I kept staring at a mirror hanging on the wall in front of my computer and it was swaying back and forth. David was sitting at our big dining room table which he said was shifting back and forth. After several long minutes, we decided to get the kids up and out of the house -- not knowing how long it would go on and how sturdy this house was. And even though going outside is NOT what you’re supposed to do. The tremors didn’t last that much longer, but it was weird.

We then began to start looking on the internet, waiting for news of it to seep out – which took awhile. This site is the US one that we particularly watched, to see the number of aftershocks building up – none of which we felt --
http://earthquake.usgs.gov/recenteqsww/Maps/region/Asia_eqs.html.

By late morning we began to hear via friends (the mobile phone network was jammed, but text messages (SMS) were going through fine) of news on the west side of the island – bodies floating in the streets, destruction, but also reports of minimal destruction in other areas. For example, the boys have a good friend who lives down near the southern most point of the island – and he said he there was minimal damage – he went swimming on a beach that had been relatively protected by a bay. But then he went up to the next areas on the west side, Kata and Karon, which are totally exposed to the open ocean and he said it was horrible. The boys have another friend who is staying at a beach resort up the Thai coast from Phuket and he got through last night to say that beach was badly hit.

We were/are in no danger at all from the wave. The damage on Phuket was limited to some of the western beaches and we live on the east side, which is much more sheltered by sitting to the left of the mainland. In fact, I’d say the tsunamis affected perhaps just 10% of the island – in terms of both area and numbers of people.

Phuket has a steep spine of mountains running north-south, so people on those low-lying western beaches had hills (with houses, hotels, and other human beings on them) readily available to run to. There are also plenty of available resources of food, shelter, and hospitals on this island – which were untouched. I know our school – Dulwich – was preparing last night for an influx of 1,000 evacuees (all tourist or not, I don’t know) to sleep in boarding houses and on the gymnasium floors. I sent over extra bedding, towels, and food. Must call and see what the needs are today. We didn’t go driving around yesterday as the roads traversing the island are narrow and windy and it would be all too easy to clog them.

It is the smaller islands, like Phi Phi, which sound much worse off – in that they’re small and the only development was on the beach front. So they don’t have any strong back-up resources on the same island. I also feel so much more sorry for the peoples of Sri Lanka and India – where the tsunami was so much stronger. Not to mention the Indonesians – it will be interesting to find out what really happened in that remote northern province of Aceh.

I must say, some of the news reports are a little exaggerated. We just saw on CNN a trailer that said: “Witness: Famed Laguna Beach Resort destroyed”. Yet yesterday late afternoon we were talking to the general manager of that hotel at his home two doors down. He’d been at his hotel all day and they had had damage, including one tourist drowned and the need to re-accommodate maybe a hundred guests – due to flooding of rooms closest to the sea – and lots of debris to clean up – but it was NOT destroyed, by any stretch of the imagination. Of the five 5-star hotels that make up the Laguna complex, one – the Dusit – was the worst hit with a whole restaurant structure destroyed, while another was completely untouched (except for the seaside hawkers’ flimsy booths being washed out to sea). As for food supplies, according to that hotel manager, all but one or two of the restaurants in the whole complex of hotels were up and running. And hotel guests had been asked to volunteer to double up in rooms and people were being very accommodating, he said. He seemed quite calm about it all – at least from the high-end tourist point of view.

Of course, the CNN/BBC TV reports focusing on tourists is a little bizarre – though understandable. People around the world watching the English-language broadcasts have more in common with English-speaking tourists than with the local inhabitants of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. But, come on, losing all your holiday belongings is not quite the same as losing your life belongings. And the number of tourists dead will be minimal compared to the natives.

One silver lining of the event was that it was still early morning – by tourist holiday standards – so the beaches were not packed. How much worse it would have been at midday or in the afternoon. The news that will only gradually emerge will be about the people missing -- out on diving trips or out in boats for the day. The hope is that people are safe but stranded on little islands. All of our personal friends have been accounted for, but I do wonder when we get back to school whether there will be any deaths within our community.

We were due to go out on a friend’s boat at midnight last night for a two-day cruise. I must say I try not to think about the random timing of these things. What if we had been out on the sea? Would we have just bobbed along on the top of the tsunamis? Would we have capsized? Where might we have been when the thing hit?

Such is life…..

Love,
Katie


Sunday, December 26, 2004

Email #2 - Dec 26, 2004

From Katie - Dec 26, 2004:


10:30 PM

We all just went over to Boat Lagoon, but the ship’s captain said too many boats were coming in the channel, so we couldn’t get out tonight. I’m NOT terribly disappointed. We’ll wait 24 hours and see how Mother Nature is doing…

So you don’t need to worry about us on the open sea…..

Love,
Katie


Email #1 - Dec 26, 2004

From Katie - Dec 26, 2004:


http://earthquake.usgs.gov/recenteqsww/index.html

David and I were each sitting at computers downstairs this morning at 8 AM and suddenly began to feel sick to our stomachs as things in front of our eyes began to move – it was the house starting to shake. And it kept on shaking slowly but surely. After several long minutes, we decided to get the boys up and out of the house (not knowing how long it would go on and how sturdy this house was). It didn’t last that much longer, but it was weird.

Since then we’ve been watching on the internet (check out the site above). If you look at a map, the northern tip of Sumatra where an 8.1 earthquake hit is not far from Phuket and since that first quake there have been other ones moving up a chain of islands – all to the west of Phuket.

I just spoke with Angie Batt, our neighbor two doors down whose husband is the manager of one of the 5-star Laguna hotels on the west coast. Evidently the sea water level rose by 2 meters, flooding the shoreline (sweeping all the hawkers’ booths into the lagoon), even flooding some of the ground-floor rooms of hotel buildings near the shore. One guest drowned when the wall of the lagoon he was standing next to collapsed due to the flooding water. We hear there are dead bodies floating in the seaside streets of Kamala and that there are deaths in Patong. I guess anyone swimming at 8 AM or walking along the beach on that western side of the island would have been swept away.

Gee, and we’re due to go out on Clive’s boat tonight. At least it’s big and steel-hulled, so impossible to capsize (they say). We’re on the east side of the island – as is Clive’s boat and we were due to head east – away from the earthquake area. We’re not going for 12 hours, so there’s time to see what’s happening with the earth.

But it’s horrible to think of drownings on the west side of the island – and lots of flooding damage.

More later,

Love,
Katie


Phuket Connection

My sister Katie lives on Phuket, Thailand, and she was there with her husband David and teenaged sons Sam & Max during the tsunami on December 26th. (Her daughter Maggie is here in Maine with us for a few months.) Many people have called or written asking how Katie & her family are, so I thought this would be a good way to keep people informed. Katie and David have written several emails, and I will cut & paste some of them here.

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