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Old 01-18-2005, 12:16 PM   #1
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Another First-Hand Tsunami Story, Worth the Read

I was going to post in the other thread, but decided these stories need their own threads. This story was written by a British friend of my girlfriend's father. As I mentioned in the other thread, my girlfriend's parents work for an advertising agency in Singapore, and we used to vacation in Phuket over Christmas.

"Luke Simmonds works at an advertising agency and has been on our business
in the Nordics and in Asia. He's now on another assignment in London.

He was on Phi Phi island when the tsunami hit and wrote the following
narrative about his experience after returning home. It's worth a read.


> >Subject: Tsunami; as someone put it " Lucky Luke"
> >Date: Mon, 3 Jan 2005 13:03:34 +0000
> >
> >(Undoubtedly I will have missed many people off this circulation. Please
> >feel free to forward)
> >
> >
> >Dear All
> >
> >firstly, I should say thank you for your kind words. This whole
> >has been shocking but if anything good has come out of it, is the
> >knowledge that I have some of the best friends and colleagues anyone
> >have. I truly appreciate all of the calls and the messages - it does
> >
> >
> >I am ok, my injuries are nothing, just some cuts and bruises. Ironically,
> >I received nearly all of these after the event, walking or rather
> >stumbling around the island. Unfortunately, many people have not been so
> >lucky. The pictures on TV give a clear picture of the death and
> >destruction, but I haven't seen anything that comes close to depicting
> >horror of the injuries.
> >
> >A number of people have suggested that I write down my experience - I
> >think this in part will help me, but also saves me repeating the story
> >many times. I do not feel uncomfortable with sharing this story, and in
> >some respects I think it probably helps recounting what happened. Please
> >do not feel awkward if you want to talk to me about this. Below, I will
> >try to recount exactly what happened to me, before during and after. At
> >times, it will be graphic so please be warned.
> >
> >I arrived in Thailand on the 20th and spent 3 days in Phuket on Kata
> >with a Swedish girlfriend and her family. They had planned their trip for
> >months. I decided very last minute to join them before going onto meet
> >Danish friends in Koh Phi Phi, and finally onto Bangkok with friends from
> >Hong Kong for New Year. I moved onto Phi Phi on the 24th and celebrated
> >Christmas with 3 of my Danish friends - Lars and his girlfriend Rine ,
> >Jesper. On the evening of the 25th , I was exhausted so didn't join them
> >for dinner and went to bed at around 9pm. This is important as anyone who
> >knows me , will know that I tend to sleep late ! But given a long nights
> >rest , I was up early and had breakfast with Lars & Rine.
> >
> >At about 10:30 we went to the beach. Lars and I planned to go sailing ,
> >but there was no wind so we opted for water skiing. We waited for the
> >and noted the wind was picking up so we would sail afterwards. First Lars
> >skied and then it was my turn. At the moment i got into the water the
> >lagoon started to drain out - in particular on the far right hand side of
> >the bay ( as you look out to sea). Within seconds it was too shallow to
> >ski, so i climbed back into the boat. Lars, I and the driver sat there
> >just watching the water drain away without any comprehension of what was
> >to happen next. At first we saw a couple on a Kayak struggling in the
> >current - they were being sucked out to sea. But then almost immediately
> >they were on the top of a small wave kayaking into the beach at some
> >speed. We were excited by the site and just imagined they were having
> >fun. Of course we could not know of the huge volume of water that was
> >underneath them , that once it reached the shallow water would simply
> >up into a huge wave. That is basically what happened next.
> >
> >We were in the ski boat facing towards the shore, when the water passing
> >underneath us began to pull the boat around and towards the shore. Almost
> >out of nowhere there was a huge wall of water, behind us at the beach. We
> >were at the bottom of a 10 meter wave that stretched the entire length of
> >the beach, maybe 1km. I said to Lars that we were in trouble - at this
> >moment it didn't even dawn on me that the wave would pass through the
> >island causing the destruction that it did. I screamed at the driver to
> >get us out to sea, but even at full power , the boat just got sucked to
> >the bottom of the wave. The wave collapsed on the top of the boat. I
> >remember covering my head and rolling into a ball. Underwater I just kept
> >on thinking " please don't get hit by something ". I came to the surface
> >breathed, and then was pulled under again. I like to think that all of
> >diving I have done helped me - I knew not to fight the current and to
> >as long as I could before reacting. The truth is , I was just lucky. I
> >came to the surface , grabbed some more air, and then saw a huge wave
> >coming at me. I could see that it wasn't about to break where I was so i
> >took a breath and dived through it, coming up the other side. I grabbed
> >some wood to hang onto, but then saw a life jacket ( presumably from our
> >boat ) floating 10 meters away. I swam like crazy for it - in my head I
> >knew it was the best thing to do. I got it on and instantly felt safe - i
> >was afloat in the sea and things didn't look that bad for me.
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Old 01-18-2005, 12:17 PM   #2
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I knew I
> >safe from drowning I just had to wait for help. I looked for Lars, saw
> >driver first, and then Lars about 150 meters away, he looked unhurt, but
> >even from that distance I could see his face had taken on a different
> >aspect. I have thought about this since and have decided that it was
> >survival.
> >
> >We were all then pushed inland , over what I now know was the Cabana
> >pool where so many people had been when the wave struck. I saw the water
> >flooding into open spaces and it was here that I got very frightened.
> >Water was rushing into fill any empty voids and I could see that I was
> >likely to go wherever the water went. I smashed into the first floor
> >balcony of the hotel and was hanging on with my body being pulled under.
> >It was too strong. I took a breath and then was pulled under the hotel
> >through the ground floor pool side balconies. I am sure i survived due to
> >the life jacket , as it was always trying to get me to the surface. I
> >think I came up around the corner of the hotel and drifted a little way
> >the back of the Hotel before swimming to a tree and climbing up.
> >
> >About 3 or 4 minutes later the water subsided. I climbed down and almost
> >immediately saw Lars and the driver , they were both fine. Then the
> >screaming started. People calling for their loved ones. At first a guy
> >looking for his daughters , Fredericke and Isabella. I asked him where
> >they had been ( in the pool ) and then I explained how far I had
> >and that we needed to spread out and walk away from the Hotel. Everywhere
> >was devastation. The small wooden bungalows were ripped open. We called
> >their names, we never found them. Then 2 French girls stuck up a tree
> >asked me to help them down. I now know from Lars that he had a similar
> >experience. Whilst looking for Fredericke and Isabella he found 2 Thai
> >girls stuck in a basement room, filling up with water. He helped them out
> >as the water was rushing in to fill the space they occupied. On a lighter
> >side, I understand one of the girls didn't want to come out as all of her
> >clothes had been pulled from her body - Lars didn't give her a choice !
> >
> >At the Cabana Hotel we started to make a hospital area. Some people came
> >on their own, others we heard screaming and we went to them. Another
> >English guy, called CC ( spelling ? ) was a psychiatrist, and so we kind
> >of appointed him in charge. The first girl we collected from the rubble
> >was an English girl called Sally. She was covered in the most severe cuts
> >i have ever seen. Imagine those documentaries about liposuction, etc.....
> >it was like that. Gaping holes with grotesque cuts in the flesh, to the
> >bone. She had at least 7 lacerations over her legs and tummy. We saw
> >wounds like this throughout the day caused by the debris in the water.
> >bungalows often had their roofs made of corrugated iron, which travelling
> >through the water at 40 KPH clearly just tore through bodies. We kicked
> >down a door to use as a stretcher and carried her to the first floor. She
> >was the first , and then they just kept coming. A Japanese husband and
> >wife. The wife had lost half of her throat. We simply held her neck
> >together. A Swedish women whose head was cleaved open - we tied her head
> >together. A Japanese girl whose leg was so badly broken , we decided that
> >we had to put it straight. I held her hand, and kissed her, whilst crying
> >with her, as 3 guys pulled her leg straight. It took 3 or 4 minutes of
> >most unbelievable pain for this girl. She was amazing. I am still trying
> >to find her. I know it was the stress of the situation but somehow there
> >was a very special connection between us. Afterwards we all prayed for
> >rest of her group. She was missing 16 people ! I have since contacted
> >Japanese newspapers as I feel that I will find it hard to put this behind
> >me until I know what happened to her. I would get on a flight to Japan in
> >an instant if I knew that I could see her again. Then there was an
> >boy , travelling on his own, I think called Tommy. He had a major cut by
> >his armpit and was petrified that he would lose his arm. I cleaned out
> >wound whilst trying to give reassurance. I'm pretty sure he would be OK
> >he was able to move everything - It just looked so horrible. Whilst we
> >were helping someone , often you would hear , " Doctor , please come and
> >help my friend." I didn't know whether to explain that I wasn't a Doctor
> >or not. 9 times out of 10 , I said I wasn't, but still people were
> >desperate for help.
> >
> >I think it was about 12:30 now and around this time the first reports of
> >more waves came. They never did, but the effect was to cause even more
> >panic. Around this time I met another amazing person. Michelle walked
> >and asked if she could help. You need to understand we had very little.
> >were sending people off to the rooms ( if they were prepared to leave the
> >relative shelter of high ground ) to get water from the mini bars, cleans
> >sheets , and the sewing kits ( we thought we might have to sew up some of
> >the wounds... fortunately we did not ). I looked at Michelle and could
> >tell she was holding back. I said we needed help , but how was she and
> >was she with ? Her husband was missing , he'd been swimming. We cried ,
> >but then she just said, " right, lets help these people".... unbelievable
> >! An hour later, her husband Marvin walked in , unhurt !!!! I cannot
> >describe to you that moment , it was pure joy.
> >
> >At around 14:00 we heard that a boat was coming in. CC and I spoke and
> >where concerned that people would panic and rush for the boat. He pointed
> >out we would have to restrain people. I made an announcement about what
> >was happening and said that only the most injured would be allowed to
> >leave and that CC would decide who they were.... i think we all knew who
> >had to go. The boat came in and we carried about 20 people down to the
> >boat on doors, deck chairs, etc. We took Sally, the 3 Japanese, a number
> >of Swedish and Thai people..... i think it was about 20 people in total
> >that went on that first boat.
> >
> >After that I tried to make it over to my Hotel to find my friends. Lars
> >and I had got separated and I hadn't seen him since the water first
> >subsided. It was impossible to cross the island and it was in this
> >that I started to see how bad the destruction was. In the 200 meters i
> >travelled I saw at least 20 dead bodies. I gave up and went back to the
> >Cabana Hotel. Time went by and as more warnings of waves came in , people
> >left to goto higher ground ... up the mountain. A number of people stayed
> >and were debating the risks. To get to the mountain was probably 30
> >minutes across flat ground of total destruction. If a wave came and you
> >were out there, you were dead. Simple as that. At about 4pm a guy came in
> >with a walkie talkie and confirmed that another bigger wave was coming
> >that we were not high enough. This wave never came, but again the damage
> >was done. Those that could walk left. I decided it was time i had to go
> >too.
> >
> >As I was leaving a S.African family , mother, grandmother, aunt and
> >girl were making their way very slowly. They all had cuts to the legs. As
> >I understand it, the little girl had drowned but they had given CPR and
> >brought her back to life , but she was unresponsive. I said to the mother
> >I would take her and go. I am not sure if she really understood. She
> >passed me the little girl, and I went. I was very frightened. I did not
> >look back. This has given me some nightmares. I got to the mountain and
> >was impossible to get up whilst holding a little unconscious 6 year old.
> >An English guy helped me ( his name may have been Adam and his girlfriend
> >Emma ) , and we only got up about 15 meters. I sat there with her in my
> >arms trying to feed her 'sugar water' for about 2 hours. Eventually I
> >decided she would not make it unless she got to a hospital. I climbed
> >down the mountain , which I could not have done without the help of an
> >American guy called Larry and crossed the island ( unbelievably scary ,
> >fear of another wave ) , got to the beach where there was a boat with
> >about 100 people trying to board from 1 plank. The Thai's saw me with
> >little girl and just hoisted me aboard. Going out to sea was one of the
> >most bizarre moments. The harbour was full of debris and dead bodies.
> >silent. Everyone frightened of another wave.
> >
> >At sea , we boarded a bigger boat and waited for other boats to join us.
> >still held the little girl in my arms. Her name I thought was Shania (
> >had whispered it in a moment of consciousness ) , I later found out it
> >Chane.
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Old 01-18-2005, 12:17 PM   #3
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We arrived at Phuket town at approx 22:30 and were the first into
> >an ambulance , with 2 other English guys I met on the boat - Jimbo (21 )
> >and Mark (32 ). We went to the Mission Hospital and got the little girl
> >into intensive Care - I had not put her down for 8 hours. I now have some
> >understanding of what it must mean to be a parent and I look forward to
> >that day for me. Later though, we had to move to the Government hospital
> >to get a brain scan. All ok, so back to Mission hospital. Throughout the
> >night I tried to find relatives of the little girl. I called S.African
> >embassy ( shut ) so left a message of who i was, where i was , and who i
> >had. Spoke to British embassy and repeated the story. In intensive care
> >there were 2 other Europeans - Angelika from Austria, and Antonio from
> >Portugal. Antonio's girlfriend Anna was there , unhurt, so we talked a
> >lot. She helped me. I felt very responsible for the little girl and was
> >suffering some guilt at taking her from the Mother. I kept on thinking
> >about how the Mother must be feeling, not knowing where and how her
> >girl was.
> >
> >Later on I noticed the Austrian women ( who I would find out was called
> >Angelika Thomes ) looking in my direction. I went over to speak to her. "
> >How are you , are you ok ?" She just burst into tears - she had lost her
> >husband and 15 year old son. I told her that I would go and phone the
> >Austrian embassy and give them her details. The next day we heard that
> >both her husband and son were alive and well ! Such happiness. During the
> >night I called Angelika's friend in Austria ( Karin ) and told her what
> >was going on, who I was and where we were. An hour later a call was
> >to me " Doctor Luke , this is Angelika's Doctor in Austria " !!!!!! This
> >happened on a number of occasions, people mistaking you for a Doctor. I
> >must say this was quite surreal. Especially as I was wearing a pair of
> >ripped shorts from the day before. Her Doctor and I spoke and he was just
> >happy to be able to talk to someone properly in English. I love the Thai
> >people, they are simply one of the , if not THE, kindest races out there,
> >but in our hospital language was a problem. In the intensive care unit
> >one of the nurses spoke English. Often I would go down to the
> >administration department to talk to the staff there who were excellent
> >and were really trying to help, but it was chaos at the hospitals.
> >worse was the lists - names were spelt wrong, nationalities wrong,etc.
> >this made it more complicated to find people.
> >
> >I slept a few hours at the hospital and about 6am the little girl Chane
> >opened her eyes. We played a game of trying to spell out her surname. I
> >held up letters in front of her and she nodded or pointed at them. Her
> >surname was PANAINO. I ran ( hobbled ) downstairs to phone the embassy. I
> >kind of broke down at this point for a little while. I had been desperate
> >to find her parents, but with no name ,and her not talking it seemed an
> >impossible task. Now it seemed just a matter of time. At this point I
> >still hadn't spoken to anyone from home or any of my friends. Losing your
> >mobile phone cuts you off from the world. How many numbers do you know ?
> >didn't know many and was too tired to concentrate. I was leaving messages
> >at home , my Brothers mobile, even tried the office. But hadn't spoken to
> >anyone. I called my own mobile and heard messages of people calling in.
> >Most importantly I heard that Anneli ( my Swedish girlfriend ) and her
> >family were fine. However, the desperation in her voice was clear. She
> >wanted me to call her but didn't leave her number ! I tried to call her
> >Hotel but the lines were down, so no way to tell her I was ok. I then
> >realised that if i could get my messages I could re-record my own
> >So I called back and did this. Unfortunately it did not save the message,
> >so it wasn't until i called back 6 hours later that I realised this. I
> >recorded a new message which I think many of you heard.
> >
> >At about 9am I walked through the hospital reception and heard my name
> >shouted. Corny i know, but of all the hospitals in all the towns, there
> >was Lars and his girlfriend Rine !!! Both of them well , cuts & bruises.
> >No sign of Jesper and today as I write this almost a week later we still
> >have no news. I think we accept that he has gone, but just hope he did
> >suffer and that we can find his body. We left the Hospital to goto the
> >Pearl Hotel where all the Scandinavians were being moved to. I stayed
> >them a little while but felt disconnected and isolated. I wanted to be
> >around British people and I wanted to go back to the Hospital to find out
> >how Chane was, so i left.
> >
> >I have spoken to Lars about what happened to Jesper and this is all we
> >know : Jesper was on the beach with Rine when they saw the wave coming.
> >first they gathered up some of our belongings and then started to run
> >through the Hotel bungalows that we had been staying at - Phi Phi
> >Running in flip flops is hard. Jesper fell over and Rine fell on top of
> >him. They got up, left everything and carried on running. They were
> >separated. Rine was trying to get up some stairs when the water came. She
> >was hanging onto the top step, with water up to her neck, when two Thai
> >guys pulled her up to safety. She did not see what happened to Jesper.
> >
> >Back at the hospital , at about 11am, a nurse came in holding a mobile
> >phone which she shoved next to the ear of Chane.... it was Daddy !!!
> >could not talk, i took the phone. It was not her Dad, but her Uncle
> >I told him who I was and where we were. He arrived 30 minutes later and
> >collapsed into my arms. Actually I collapsed into his too. We just cried
> >and hugged. He had spoken to the Auntie and knew who I was. The mother
> >Grand mother were all fine just miles away. I explained the story and how
> >guilty i felt for taking her. He was brilliant and just thanked me for
> >saving her life and told me that the mother was so grateful. Since
> >back to the UK, I have called the hospital , the mother was there, we
> >spoke, it was great ... nothing else to be said !
> >
> >I think around 14:00 i had this sense that it was time for me to leave.
> >There was no-one else left who I was connected with that hadn't met their
> >family / friends, yet I was on my own and still hadn't spoken to anyone.
> >went to the City Hall to get papers but gave up after an hour when
> >said, just get upto Bangkok and sort it out there - a Thai guy gave me
> >shoes he was wearing , a t-shirt from someone else. I went to Phuket
> >airport and waited 5 hours before getting on free flight from Thai
> >Airways. At the airport I met the 2 French girls I had got down from the
> >tree 36 hours earlier !!! I became part of their extended family as they
> >had been 'adopted' by a French guy , Bernard , and his wife and Kids. At
> >Bangkok, within 30 minutes I had a piece of paper to admit me to the UK,
> >and within 1 hour I was on the BA flight that had come from Sydney, First
> >Class. I lost the plot here. For about an hour I was in 'shock'. I could
> >not stop shaking and crying, I think the plane represented home. The
> >were great and I really must contact BA to let them know that the crew on
> >that flight helped me significantly.
> >
> >Home, my Brother , the Press, guilt. I am safe , unhurt and I was out so
> >quickly. Every day I think about what happened and whether I could have
> >done more. I have a strong urge to go back, but think that first I will
> >have to goto Denmark to be with my friends there to deal with the loss of
> >Jesper. I sleep , but wake up very early. I am glued to the TV. I have
> >contacted the press, as some of you will have seen. I want to know what
> >happened to the people we helped. Last night Sally's Mum called. She is
> >recovering in Bangkok hospital. Another amazing call from a Mum who was
> >frightened for her daughter. She knows the extent of Sally's injuries,
> >she is alive and will recover. I hope to go and see them in Jersey when
> >they are ready.
> >
> >I am now just looking for the Japanese girl. I have sent an email to some
> >of the papers out there and hope that someone will pick up on the story -
> >I hope so.
> >
> >I lost everything out there. The only thing I came back with were the
> >shorts I was wearing and lots of paper with names , telephone numbers,
> >messages to give to family and friends. I know that I am very lucky to be
> >alive. We must do everything we can to help those that have not been so
> >lucky. I urge you to go and make a financial donation - if you have done
> >it already , do it again. I am trying to get a passport so I can goto
> >Denmark, but it seems that it may take some days. I will come to the
> >office and already I have read all of your mails. Please forgive me If I
> >have not written back yet, I hope that this 'story' will answer your
> >questions. I cannot wait to see you all soon.
> >
> >All my love
> >
> >Luke
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Old 01-18-2005, 12:39 PM   #4
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amazing...i cant really say anything but read and pray for them all =(

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Old 01-29-2013, 09:54 PM   #5
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Randomly came back across this 8 years later. Long read, but worth the time for those of you who remember the tsunami. Probably most of you weren't on the forums 8 years ago when I originally posted this.
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Old 01-29-2013, 10:31 PM   #6
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Great read.
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Old 01-30-2013, 12:20 PM   #7
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My parents gave me Krakatoa by Simon Winchester as an xmas gift in 04.

I started reading it right away, and of course the quake/tsunami OP's post refers to happened the next day. Over the next week or so, the parallels between what CNN was showing in real time and what I was reading about happening 120 years ago were very eerie.

Thanks for posting this first person account.
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