Tom’s friend James was visiting Thailand for Christmas & New Years this year when the tsunami hit. For several days, we didn’t know if James was among the thousands of unfortunate victims. On New Years day, Tom received the following email indicating James was alive and well…and has some great adventure stories to tell!
I’m still in Thailand, in Ao Nang. I was scuba diving in about 60 feet of water in Phi Phi when the tidal wave it. It was my first dive as a qualified Open Water Diver, which I obtained here last year. Anyway, we were diving when a big current surge swept us along the edge of the reef wall, pushing us down as the water drained off the reef. Within a few minutes, it swept us beyond the island into a big eddy current, where we surfaced and the boat picked us up. We thought is was a pretty cool ride. The dive master said it was similar to a normal dive in Indonesia, where they normally have strong currents. He had only been diving in Phi Phi for about 2 weeks.
After getting onto the boat and having some lunch, the boat driver heard what happened on the island. As series of tidal wave completely washed over the middle, low section of the island. None of the boats would go ashore for about 4 hours because they were afraid of another waving coming. We finally went ashore about 2 hours before dark. To me, it look like in the worst-hit area, the water was about 20 feet above normal level. At our bungalo, the water just one inch below the bottom of the window, about 4 feet up from the ground, which was about 10 or 15 feet up from the normal water level. The waves surged in an out several times. Fortunately, our bungalo was fairly water-tight and the door didn’t break down – like the one next to us. So everything was dry except for the few things we left on the floor. Most of the bungalos in the other low parts of the island were completely destroyed with all the contents washed away.
That night, decided to sleep on higher ground and met some people from a Thai village that took us in, fed us and then found us a very nice bungelo on the hill that was vacant. We hung out with them around the campfire under the full moon until about 1 AM. They the men politely convinced Alexandra that she was tired and should go the bungalo. So after that, it was just me and about 15 of the Thai guys sitting around the fire eating fresh cooked fished and drinking warm beer and tequila that they “salvaged” from the abandonded market below. They were mostly hotel facility operators and taxi boat drivers. So they had lots of stories to tell about what happened. One of the guys had climbed us to the top of the roof on the main pier in the middle of the low section and watched everything from there. He said the water rose from both sides of the island simulaneoulsy and then retreated many times, carry a lot of people with them. I’m guessing that the death estimates are still quite lower than reality.
I’ll send you some photos when I get back home around January 6 or so.