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Tsunami - Phi Phi, etc.

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I can't help but think about the amazing impact of the tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean last December. During the recent OR show I heard a few tales of survival that were pretty amazing.


On Phi Phi Island I understand there were climbers on the beach when the waves hit. Some survived by clipping into the rock to prevent themselves from being washed out to sea.


I spoke with a gentleman who was vacationing on Phi Phi with his wife and two teenage sons. They awoke late that morning after getting to bed late from a Christmas Day party the night before. His wife decided to go snorkeling at the beach while he and his sons got themselves ready to go down and meet her for breakfast at a sea side restaurant.


Phi Phi island is small, with two rocky mountains joined by a narrow strip of beach that is about 200 yards wide and 800 to 1200 yards from mountain to mountain. They were staying in a bungalow on one of the mountains.


As he was getting dressed he heard a tremendous roar and went out on the veranda with his sons, and was stunned to witness the tsunami rush in and completely over the strip of beach land that houses most of the development on Phi Phi. He watched hundreds of people dying.


Then he realized his wife was down there snorkeling! He ran out and down the steps leading to the beach. There was only one person coming up the steps, and it was his wife. Her story of survival is amazing.


She was snorkeling in hip deep water close to shore as she waited for her husband and sons. All of a sudden she was being pulled out to sea at a rapid pace, so she struggled to get to her feet. By the time she stood up she was in ankle deep water about 250 yards from shore. She turned around to see the wave on the horizon, realized what it was, and started running to shore, hoping to make it to the steps going up the mountain side.


As she ran she was shouting at the other people on the beach to get out of there. Nobody else was running to safety. They were either standing and watching the incoming wave, or they were actually running after the receding water!


By the time she got to dry sand she turned around and realized she didn't have time to make it the extra 150 yards to the steps leading up the mountain. She grabbed a beach towel and ran to the nearest palm tree and with seconds to spare tied herself to the tree with the beach towel and took a deep breath just as the wave hit.


The water was so full of coral and sand that her skin was raw and bleeding afterward. She thought she was going to run out of breath and die, so she desparately shimmied up the tree with the beach towel still wrapped around her until her head popped above water. As soon as the water was low enough for her feet to touch ground again she untied from the tree and waded across to the steps, just before the second wave hit.


Shortly after that her husband found her. She was the only survivor from that beach.


They spent the next two days doing triage and recovering bodies, and were evacuated to Phuket and then to Bangkok.


It amazes me that she had the presence of mind to think of using a beach towel for survival.

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Incredible story. Myself and two other friends were there in November. I met some wonderful Thai people and other tourists, and it's very sad to think that they are probably gone. The Thai livelihood is just totally destroyed (although I hope that in rebuilding they can also find a way to live more sustainably and not have to depend so much on tourism)


The right is Ton Sai Bay, I can't remember the other beach.

This is what it used to be:


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WOW, after all those pictures of houses, cars and major debris you wouldt think a towel wrapped around a plam tree would hold. I think you would have to wait a long time for e water to recede after the first wave. In fact didnt the water go fairly far inland?


amazing stories though

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Until about a week ago there was a Dutch based web site that had posted a series of photographs taken from one of the mountainside bungalows overlooking that narrow strip of beach land with all the hotel and shop development. The first photo showed the tranquil bay in the foreground of the previous post.


The second and third photos showed the water being sucked out of the bay. The next photo is struck me with awe. It showed the wave breaking across the first line of palm trees on the near shore, approaching the first buildings. That image showed what I remember as a three layered wave that wasn't really breaking toward the land, but seemed to have a "reverse wave" about 50 yards behind the tallest landward wave, and that "reverse wave" was breaking in the direction away from shore. The reverse wave was about 1/4 the total height of the first wall of water hitting the shore. The water behind the wave was extremely turbulent. From that photo I would have to think that the total height of the initial wave was well over 30 feet, and I would not argue with a 45 foot wave.


The next photo shows the wave nearly finishing its push across the entire width of that strip of land, then the last photo shows water draining into both bays. I don't recall any photos showing the 2nd or 3rd major tsunami's (there were a total of three). My friend reported that the water in the sea remained turbulent for hours after the tsunami's.


One person my friend met helping in the triage they had set up in the local school yard had reportedly was body surfing before the tsunami hit, out in deeper water. He said that was swimming in deeper water when the initial "sucking" out of the water happened before the first tsunami came, and he was pull out about 1/2 to 1 mile from shore, right into the teeth of the tsunami. However, when he was sucked into the tsunami it was in water deep enough that it wasn't breaking. He had no choice but to swim hard in front of it and start riding the wave from a long distance to the shore.


The wave carried him on a high speed ride to shore, and to him it seemed to accelerate as it approach shore as the wave was funneled between the mountains. He had no choice but to ride the wave from side to side and ride it THROUGH the streets, between hotels and palm trees, and entirely across the island, finishing his ride out to sea on the other side of the island. He was unharmed.

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Pic taken by Andy on a 4-pitch climb I can't remember the name of.


From what I've heard, the only buildings left standing are the ones with the red-tile roofs in the center, and they will most likely turn Phi Phi Island back into a nature reserve. The diving was AWESOME on Bida Ley and Bida Nok, a 30-minute boat ride from Phi Phi. thumbs_up.gif

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