Tsunami News 11:15 a.m. 2004-12-29

Going to New Orleans always makes me think of my friend, Chris. We met on my year abroad in Angers, France, and have remained friends. He has been working in Japan for God-knows-how-long, and married a Japanese woman named Chiyoko.

Several years ago, Chris purchased some land on the tiny island of Koh Phayam - just off the coast of Thailand and Myanmar in the Andaman Sea. He and Chiyoko built a lovely house on their land, where they grow cashews. Chris still works during the school year in Japan, but Chiyoko stays at home with the dogs - and they even built a house for her parents next door!

When my husband filled me in on the tsunami in that part of the world, I immediately thought of Chris and Chiyoko. I think that it has been almost a year since I last heard from them, but thought I would chance an "are you still out there?" e-mail.

I got an almost immediate response, which must mean that technology is catching up to the tiny island. In the past, Chris would have to cross the water to Ranong to check e-mail at an internet cafe. Here is his amazing account of his island's experience:

Chere Celeste:

Yes, everything is OK. The tsunami waves caused some major damage on Buffalo Bay (I am assuming this is on the Andaman Sea side of the island).I went down there this morning and saw the ruined bungalows and eroded shoreline and talked to people who were caught in the maelstrom. To the person, each and every one said that had the water been one meter higher everyone on the beach would have died. Sobering. The water first retreated from the beach like water going down a drain and then came rushing back. It was no use trying to outrun the water although some tried. Others jumped in trees while others formed human chains to fight against the water. It was not a wave, per se, but just like the high tide from hell moving
faster than a human can run.

Needless to say, the beaches were evacuated and most of the tourists slept in the school which is safely inland. How high did the water get? At the big beach, Aow Yai, water lapped up at the bungalow restaurants which are about one hundred meters from the usual water line. The low lying areas on Buffalo Bay fared much worse. I saw water damage better than five hundred meters from the water line. I saw concrete bungalows missing two or three walls, huge panes of glass shattered everywhere.

It truly is a miracle if no one was killed but the true extent is still not known. As the successive tsunamis hit one after the other -with small breaks in between - people who were in the water enjoying the gentle lapping placid waves, were inexorably dragged out to sea. I talked to one person who figured it was his lucky day, as two hours later the sea brought him back.

Here at fortress Bann Shaba we had no inkling to what was happening. We were eating lunch when we received a call from friends in Ranong warning of high water. I ran down to beach to see if I could help but it was eerily deserted. The bungalows were undamaged but they were locked up tight and no one was in the restaurants. I haven't seen a sight like that since the mid-nineties. I saw a brand new motorcycle half buried in the sand. I didn't see anyone. Then the water started rising...fast. I was standing on the beach river delta with the sea on one side and a seemingly impenetrable mangrove jungle on the other. The water reached my ankles in about 20 seconds where before I was 100 meters from the sea. Just as abruptly it began to retreat again the last gasp tsunami the earthquake had to offer. Still, it scared the heck out of me as I had never seen the sea move like that round these parts.

This morning, the pier was loaded with tourists who were trying to escape what had become a nightmare vacation. The government, however, had other ideas. All unessential boat traffic was halted for the day as police and naval vessels searched for survivors. Bottom line... it was bad in many places as I'm sure you've seen on the news. Our beloved Koh Phayam dodged a major bullet. Many people almost died. Things are sharper, better in focus: the important things. Turn to your loved ones and hug them and tell them you love them, it could all be gone in an instant. I know I did.

Chris and Chiyoko

Pretty amazing, huh?

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