Today I met a man who, along with his family, survived the disaster in Thailand because they all happened to be out in a boat when the waves came in. He’s a consultant to my company who helps us collect feedback from our subsidiaries on communication issues. December 26th was their last full day in Phuket, and they decided to take their daughters (ages 5&3) on a boat-ride to a small nearby island. Fortunately, they were running 15 minutes late for their charter, because otherwise they would have been on this island when it was completely engulfed byt the waves.
As it was, they were quite a distance from both the island and the coast, and while they did notice a pretty good swell to the ocean…the entire boat rose with it, so they didn’t think anything was especially amiss. And then his wife noticed that the beach had completely disappeared. The first wave was not especially large and while it came way up the beach and startled people, they were still able to gather up their small children and some of their personal belongs.
The second wave was a different story. It was so huge that he and his wife could only see the very tops of the palm trees above the water, and no one was able to hold on to anything…including the parents who were still clutching infants and toddlers when it came ashore. Many of those who were strong enough to keep their heads above water ended up being beaten to death by all the debris that was roiling in it.
I cannot describe what it was like listening to him tell this story. Even in Swedish I could hear the emotion in his voice…and he was obviously still feeling very raw from the devastation and suffering he witnessed. He said his wife still hadn’t been back to work yet, even though they both have been receiving counseling for traumatic stress since they returned to Sweden.
When he finished talking he actually thanked my colleague and I (both of whom he had never met in person before) for letting him tell the story, because it was good for him to vocalize his feelings. I managed to thank him for telling me about it without breaking into tears…though I spent most of the rest of the day feeling as though I still could at any moment.