ASIAN TSUNAMI Phuket 5 Years Later
Walking along Surin Beach this morning with scores of sun loungers waiting for the tourists who will fill them by mid-day. On the day after Christmas it's hard not to remember the memories of Boxing Day 2004 for those of us on the island that fateful day.
Starting with that phone call from a friend in Kamala to ask if I just felt an earthquake with my first response being, despite growing in shake ridden California that “there aren't any shakes in Thailand?”
Or instead of my weekend routine at the time of walking our two dogs on Patong Beach and instead going to physical therapy at Phuket International Hospital after throwing out my neck playing golf. I still get chilling memories of those giant waves hitting the north end of the beach on CNN which is where I used to park the car.
Then hearing another foreigner on the phone at the hospital talking to his wife about flooding in their beachfront house, and learning later she was taken by the second wave and swept away.
After learning of the event, trying to SMS out to family and friends that we were okay as phone service flickered on and off with jammed lines. As my business partner and I who were looking after a hotel in Karon tried first to driver over the hill from Patong which was like a march of refugees and a crowded hillside of frightened people.
Later finding a way through Chalong and over into Kata with so many locals and tourists heading to the high ground, and finding the hotel deserted with the exception of some staff and security guards who had moved to the high ground.
And then driving through Patong, with chaos in the streets and scores of people running when a false cry of 'another wave is coming' was heard. Only when I got back home and saw on TV the scale of the crises did it hit home.
For days and weeks after, going to Khao Lak and seeing the twisted bodies of the dead or talking to folks who lost friends and loved ones. The most haunting memory was in the hospitals seeing the pictures of the missing, from infants, to entire families. Those pictures are still burned into my memory.
It's been 5 years since that day when the unimaginable happened, and reflection is a healthy thing. But Phuket has indeed recovered. I recall traveling aboard during the following year and so many asked questions like ” is anything left of the island.” The perception of the world and a greater media machine had disconnected in scale though not for those who lost someone that day.
While the waves gently lap onto the white sand beach I can't help but be thankful for staying out of harms way that fateful day.