Thailand was quite a trip! I went with two friends from Dhahran recreation, Doug Wuttke and Mark Lucas. Our plan was to go to the East coast about 450 kilometers south of Bangkok to a recently discovered kite surfing spot near the town of Chumphon. Once there we found it to be an absolute gem; beautiful beaches, warm water, undeveloped land except for small fishing communities and the occasional small resort catering to mostly local tourism. The people there were incredibly nice. The only thing lacking was "kiteable" wind, so we explored and even chartered a dive boat for a day. The diving was decent even though it was off-season due to the normally windy conditions.
After a week in Chumphon we decided to move on. Originally we had planned to visit Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, but there was a full moon party scheduled for the 26th, and we didn’t want to join in on that mayhem. Instead, we decided to visit Phuket on the west coast.
We found a hotel close to Karon Beach. We went wakeboarding at a cable park on Phuket, and made several scooter excursions to look for potential kite beaches, but didn’t really find any. We took in the nightlife and stayed out way too late every night -- good fun!
The morning of the 26th we were woken by our beds shaking. At first I didn't realize what was causing the vibrating, but eventually I realized it was most likely an earthquake.
My two friends were flying out that morning so I saw them off and went back to bed, planning to spend the morning and maybe afternoon hanging out at the beach two blocks away.
When I awoke again, I made my way towards the beach. It was 10:00 a.m. Coming into view of the water I noticed a bunch of flotsam; it looked like a cruise ship had sunk leaving all its deck chairs as evidence. The beaches were completely empty. People were standing at the roadside on the edge of the beach about 100 yards and 30 feet above the waters edge. It was a calm sunny day and the water was also calm.
I asked a Swedish lady if she had seen what had happened. She replied that the water receded from the beach, then after a couple of minutes the water came back sweeping everything off the beach. I asked what happened to all the people and began looking for people in the water, my life guarding instincts finally kicking into gear. I didn't see anyone or anything resembling people in the water. She said mostly people were just doused by the water but not carried away or injured. In the streets beneath me I could see water in both directions. Where I stood it was dry. As I was talking to her the water began to recede again. Just behind me was the highest point of land within view. It was a roundabout with a raised walkway and a statue. I moved to it and watched as the water continued to recede, and after about a minute or so it slowly began to return. The water didn't peak up, it just sloshed up and over the beach burm and into the streets, coming up to but not quite reaching me.
In the lower areas there was a huge amount of water and it was pushing everything around, including cars, scooters, and other things, slowly but effortlessly. Store fronts were caved in and flooded. The streets were rivers. People around me had managed to stay out of harms way.
After about five minutes the water slowly disappeared, leaving sand and debris on the streets. It was 10:30 a.m.
As I was not scheduled to fly out until the 28th, I spent that day helping to clean up. I talked with several people. Everyone was in a daze.
The next day I was able to drive my scooter through the streets, so I ventured up to the next beach, Patong Beach. What a disaster! Everything for 6 blocks from the beach , from the first floor and below, was wiped out. Three and four blocks in from the beach, cars were stacked like plates on top of one another. Boats were lying on the main street parallel to the beach. Amazingly, the palm trees and other trees on the beach appeared untouched.
Quite a few people died and were hurt at Patong Beach. Some actually followed the receding waters out with the first wave, others were in the water and were sucked out and pummeled with the returning surge. Others were shopping in below-ground shops when the waves struck. News from around the Indian Ocean began trickling in and I began to realize how lucky I was.
Dhahran Middle School teacher, John Nilsen, is now safely back home. He has been busy helping with food and clothing drives, and fundraisers both at school and in the community. One good thing about Aramco is that everyone wants to give, and people are from or know people from various places affected, so there is a sense of urgency and connection. Please help in any way you can. It will be a long recovery ~ John Nilsen