Ten years on. My letter home after the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami

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I had just had a swim and been prodding sea cucumbers and playing with tiny fishes, and was sitting peacefully with Richard, Kate and Jack on the beach at a dreamy little bamboo guesthouse on Ko Jam, the most perfect tranquil tropical island you can imagine. We had just ordered breakfast and were contemplating the sea and feeling rather chuffed that we seemed to have found Paradise. The idle conversation drifted onto the observation that suddenly all the water seemed to have disappeared from the seashore. It was very strange and suddenly quiet, as though all the water had drained from a giant bath. We pondered this, and concluded that it must be because of the incredibly full moon. Suddenly we saw some local people running as fast as they could up the hill behind the beach. I thought perhaps they were chasing a robber. But they were running exceptionally fast. Then more people joined in, and suddenly everyone was screaming and running and pointing out to sea. We turned back to look at the ocean and saw where all the water had gone. A giant wall of water was on the horizon, travelling straight towards the beach. Our terrified hosts An and Nut with their dogs were screaming at us to hurry up the hill with them, and we all scrambled frantically quite far up into the forest and waited for the wave to hit. They, like us, were panic-stricken and completely unprepared.

The noise was the worst thing: a huge deadly roaring unlike anything I have ever heard. After the impact we peeped down and saw that most of the guesthouse had disappeared. i was stunned. we started to creep down … there was debris everywhere…Nut was weeping…I began to pick up broken glass, and Jack found an onion from the kitchen – we thought we could start salvaging bits and pieces. Then the cry went up again and the beach was lashed by a succession of bigger and bigger waves. We watched the sea from the hill. Within minutes everything had completely disappeared: trees, bungalows, the kitchen, boats. The air was thick with gas. Miraculously for us, our huts were up the hill so Richard and Jack hurried into them and grabbed our belongings. Others were not lucky and lost everything.

Then began a long, thirsty, panicky scramble/ forced-march-on-pain-of-death up into the mountains. Most people were up there. The word was that another much bigger wave was heading for the island. We were all quite bewildered and the day was punctuated with cries and warnings and confusion. It was exhausting and by late afternoon I was just about ready surrender. Fortunately, the waves calmed and chose not to claim us on Ko Jam. Less mountainous islands nearby, like Ko Phi Phi and Phuket, were engulfed and devastated.
We ended up in a village being lovingly cared for by some incredibly kind local people and their children, and we slept on their balcony with children and kittens. Helicopters air-lifted the injured out but I don’t think anyone was killed on Ko Jam. No-one there really understood the size of the event until much later, as we got fragments of news.

The next day we managed to get off the island on a small and very crowded boat, and we hitched a ride to Trang in a truck with the stoic An and Nut. We have eaten and slept well. It is only now really that we are hearing about the scale of the quake – 8.7! – and the havoc and tragedy it has wreaked all around the world.

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