15: Tsunami terror: Disaster hits the West coast

Two weeks ago I made the decision of where I would take my Christmas holidays. After much deliberation we decided that Phuket and Krabi would be too expensive in the high season and instead opted for Ko Phang Nga off the East coast. Little did I realise the dramatic significance that this decision would carry.

I first heard the terrible news on the morning of Sunday the 27th December; an Earthquake had caused a Tsunami which had struck the Phuket province. I was with 6 other English King’s College employees as phone calls began to pour in from concerned friends and relatives. As with any such catastrophe, the news is at first both erratic and indifferent, as speculation fills the void left by the lack of real facts. 40,000 dead in Thailand said one call, 30 foot waves another.

In a state of shock we spent the day watching Australia’s ABC news channel as the devastation and sheer magnitude of this natural disaster unfolded. Watching the news at home in England it is sometimes unavoidable to feel distanced from tragedies which occur on the other side of the world. Sat in that small bar watching the Australian news, I felt a reality and closeness that was stifling (The only experience I have had which is comparable is sitting in a Czech bar in Prague watching CNN news on September 11th, 2001). Each of us had friends holidaying in the Phuket province, they were all very lucky to survive, some having lost everything but the clothes they are wearing. Ju, one of our Thai teaching assistants at Jindaratana was on the beach when she saw the first wave approaching. She said the wave looked beautiful with fish jumping up out of it, she then realised she had to run, and survived only by climbing a nearby tree and the helping hand of a kind Swiss gentleman.

Sue, with whom I did my CELTA course in Manchester was sunbathing on the beach in Krabi only 1 hour before the first wave hit. She is still there now, kindly caring for the injured in a hotel-come-hospital, and helping the authorities to try and straighten out the terrible aftermath.

The resonations of the Earthquake which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale just off the coast of Sumatra have shaken the entire world. We must do whatever we can to help in the aftermath, especially the poorer countries who aren’t at all equipped to help themselves. The world aid effort (if a little slow to begin with) now seems to be helping a great deal, and it is heartening to see everyone from professional sportsmen to politicians to back-packer travellers uniting to help those in need. In Ko Phang Nga one man stood for 6 hours repeating in broken English that any donation, large or small would help those suffering on the West coast. Queues of people were donating their money and many were also heading to the islands only hospital to give blood.

There is now a fear that a new wave of deaths could arise due to polluted drinking water and the sheer volume of bodies not receiving a proper burial, a handful of monks are working 20 hours a day, praying for the dead and the safety of those lucky enough to be alive.

Polls in Bangkok indicate Prime Minister Thaksin’ popularity has risen incredibly throughout the aftermath of the Tsunami as his speeches unify the country. The trouble in the South is now belittled as human disagreements seem a nonentity in the shadow of this natural, terrible occurrence.

I humbly offer my condolences to those injured, and to the families of those injured or worse, not only in Thailand, but in all of the countries affected.


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