After living the island life, where everyone knows you and your business, and you have to travel by boat for an hour and a half to reach the mainland you become part of that community. I have many very dear friends from this part of my life and these are some of their stories of the waves.
Anan, West's Thai boyfriend.
He was working on Loh Dalum when the waves struck, working on the beach as a longtail driver during the day. He was carried by the waves through what had been been the market. He is one of the few that survived from this beach. His 3 work colleagues he'd been talking to minutes before did not survive. Upon being able to contact West, she phoned his family who are based in Krabi to let them know he was alive, since they had been unable to contact him. Anan has stayed with his family since and been rejoined by West. Unlike many of my friends he wasn't staying with other people who had been through it and seen what he'd seen. The first few days were very hard but he spent many days at his temple. He is now coping very well and on behalf of his farang friends I would thank him for translating,reading thai script, and talking with officials and families.
West returned and has been a rock for many. She has spent a lot of time visiting people in hospitals, keeping the flow of information going, making sure people eat and function, spending time at the camps for displaced people from pp.
She-gooner and He-gooner
Were in their bungalow as the first wave hit, their home being quite far uphill.
"It sounded like huge machine starting up.We heard roaring. Then our mate came banging n our door to tell us to come and look.It was INSANE.At the bottom of our stairs there were houses,boats, rubbish, a river of water.No one knew what was going on. We thought it was a funnel cloud or something.We got our shoes and ran to help. The second wave came just as we were leaving the bottom of our house. People started running up-as did we. Up to the viewpoint-the top of the mountain.From there we could see the waves on the beaches. We could see non-existent resorts and shops and homes that were there only minutes before. The noise of people screaming-unbelievable.
At the top of the mountain we were safe.There were people who had made their way up from the beach, from the rooms, cut up bad.We spent the next hours tending to the shocked, the bleeding,those in need of help.It was so traumatic. We didn't know what was going on- what to expect, if another wave was coming, if help was on its way and WHEN?There was no phone signal-no way of contacting friends, family, missing...We felt so useless. The day was so hard and so long. I can't imagine how it was for the injured. That's why I felt so useless."
He-gooner's father and brothers were visiting the island for Christmas, staying on the beach. It was the next day before they received the message that they were safe and on a boat to Phuket.
She-gooner and he-gooner stayed with good friends of their's in an uneffected area of Patong. Their friends were also lucky to have survived, having been on a liveaboard trip diving in the Similans (just off Ko Lak) during the tsunami. This was a difficult time for all and with no means of making money, they have moved to yuk too.
They are very fortunate to be staying with he-gooner's family who experienced the ordeal as well and so are understanding. Both of them are very strong and have felt more able to cope with the physical distance from the disaster. She-gooner no longer is petrified everytime he-gooner walks out of the door that he is not safe and won't come back. She doesn't want to be near the water. They have some difficulties though, given that she is Canadian, and due to the way of working on pp has no documentation, rent agreements, pay slips, to show that her and the He-gooner have been living as a couple for 4 years. Many people have sent letters of reference for this, and the Home Office is looking into a common-law (de facto) visa, but this will take 8-12 weeks.
Turtle had moved to Ko Tao, but decided to spend time with his old friends on pp for Christmas. He was also in his bungalow at the time. He heard the noise, put on his glasses and opened his curtains. Immediately he saw a wall of water rushing at him. His bungalow was made of concrete and corrugated iron and collapsed in on him. His bungalow, the ones in front of it, and many behind collapsed and concertina'd together carried about 200 meters inland. Turtle remembers looking for light, as he had concrete and iron and wood and debris as a layer above him. He remembers looking and looking and starting to run out of air, unable to see a way up or out. He gave up, he started to swallow the water. Then he saw light, his instinct to survive took over and he fought his way to air.
Turtle was one of the first people airlifted off the island the next day. He sustained a collapsed lung, and partially collapsed lung, broke all his ribs, had massive crush injuries to his entire left side and pelvis, and a dislocated shoulder. He was flown to Nakhorn Sri Thammarat hospital.
We had heard from Boucher that he'd been airlifted but that was where the information stopped. West and I manually searched the lists of people in the various hospitals in Thailand, we contacted the embassy, those out there went looking for him at hospitals. 4 days later we found a name that would sound similar to a Thai ear and through descriptions and West's mastery at the Thai language discovered it was him, at a hospital quite far removed from the others. I phoned him, and he could remember only one phone number of a contact in England. Immediately I phoned this person, who contacted his family. They had gone 4 days with no news, they were giving up hope and thought they had lost him. One of the moments of pure joy since this started was being able to speak with them, tell them of conditions in the hospitals there(them never having visited the country), giving them the news they had longed for. I believe that his friends and family here, will always be friends of mine now. We speak still often now, and they even phone just to see how I am coping.
Turtle, no-one having known where he was, spent 8 days without any company of friends, which was very hard and difficult. Nakhorn is a very Thai town, and many of the nurses spoke little english (certainly it was a battle remembering enough Thai to get through the hospital reception desk, and trying to teach those phrases to his friends and family here!!!) The morphine and sedatives turtle had to take did not help mentally. He was confused, scared to sleep, in awful pain, and alone. He'd lost his glasses in the waves as well, and so all was blurry to him (I suppose this will only make sense to you if you are short-sighted). Turtle weaned himself off of the morphine after about a week, and his spirit kicked back in. I have spoken to him almost everyday, and the squeak is back in his voice now! In fact he was and is very positive, cracking jokes about the attention and bedbaths from the nurses, how maybe it wasn't such a great idea to go to pp at xmas. He also is one of the fussy ones who doesn't eat Thai food, and so he was living off marmite and crisps I got people to send him!Vixen is over with him now, and he has company (and a piece of joke plastic dog poo she bought over!).
The care he received was formidable, he underwent skin grafts, and 4 weeks after being admitted had the drain removed from his lungs (the blood vessels which run along the ribs had split, so he was bleeding into his lungs...this can be fatal).
He was discharged last week! He is able to walk with the aid of a frame, but as yet his left wrist is not working. He also has trouble getting from lying to sitting due to the pain in his ribs, but is really ok! The British Embassy have met all medical costs, renewed his visa, and offered him the use of an embassy car when he leaves the area, and will drive him somewhere to recuperate. I know he would want me to thank Sean, a teacher at the local school, who didn't know turtle before this but visited him 3 or 4 times a week so he could have english-speaking company, and has also put him up near to the hospital until he is well enough to travel. Also long-beach mark, who again didn't know him but at our request visited him at those times we couldn't get anyone over to him.
And finally to Gayer and Boucher who traveled to see him and bought him a beer, which they placed in his fridge as incentive to get walking again so he could get to it and drink it! (The great british spirit eh?)
Bex, was also airlifted out, initially to Krabi and then to Bangkok. She has been a trouper too since weaning herself off the morphine. She sustained serious flesh wounds to her stomach, back and legs and because it had taken 24 hours to be airlifted, she suffered some infection to the wounds. She has battled in good spirits mainly, through a succession of skin graft operations. She is worried about how her body will look, but in time she can have plastic surgery. She had her lows whilst heavily medicated, guilt and not seeing the point due to the pain she was in, but soon messages about socially acceptable class A drugs, and loyalty points towards boob jobs started coming out! She too was discharged last week, and flew back to yuk on sunday.
There are so many others, too many to mention by name,but all are in our thoughts and prayers.
We pay tribute to, and will remember fondly Heinz (the owner of Moskito divers), who leaves behind his daughters and wife. He was last seen running towards the wave to warn people. He has now been identified. We also miss Joy (a name no better suited anyone), our thoughts go out to Pers, her husband, to her family and children. Sadly she was pregnant at the time. She had worked with many of us at Barrakuda diving, but had become a receptionist at pp princess resort, which has disappeared. She too has been found and identified.
We are so fortunate in what, and who we have left ( a few of them below). Maybe we should remember to hold them that little bit closer, make that extra effort.Friendship is not place-specific, it remains and can be felt across the miles, it is an energy and a joy.
Sad that it takes something like this to remind us of the will to survive, the human spirit, to show humanity to others. The donations were staggering,Pakistan sent aid to India, Indonesia allowed Americans to help them, in Sri Lanka Tamils stood side-by-side with non-Tamils. Occassionally we can forget politics and see the people, choose humanity, and hope is manifest!
One last comment,one a good friend of mine from the island told me a few years ago during a rough patch. He had been out diving, and he came across a fish that had only one eye, and a bite mark through its head. He wondered at this fish. Upon surfacing he commented to his Thai friend who'd been with him, asking how does the fish keep going? The reply was, what choice is there, it will just keep swimming!