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Sunday, December 26

Tsunami in Phuket : Greg and the Parents are fine...

List of people spontaneously asking how they were doing : Chloe, Ivonne, Pierre Noureau, Pierre-Henri Gabriel. Here's the live action report from Greg : At around nine this morning an earthquake of a magnitude of 8.5 out of 12 centered on Indonesia shook all of SE Asia. It was followed by a tsunami that annihilated the coastlines. In my neighborhood, people did not even wake up. But I wasn’t in my neighborhood. Here’s the story, live and direct: I have dinner with my parents in Patong, the soon-to-be hardest hit resort town in Thailand, and I decide to party on. In the early morning, wishing to avoid adding any “driving home from Patong” scars to my collection, I crash at a friend’s place, on the third story of a derelict Chinese townshop in Patong, a few blocks from the beach. At around 9 AM, I really think I’ve had too much to drink. Then I think people are having sex in my bed. But I’m alone in a tiny bed. Then I think people are fucking so hard in the next door apartment that the paper thin walls are transmitting their kinetic energy to my bed. Then I see a bowl on the ground spill water onto the floor. It slowly dawns on me this is not hot sex. This is an earthquake. I reflect on being in a cardboard four story house and that maybe I should run for my life. But I don’t even remember the way out to this bombed out heap of concrete. My friend is still sleeping on the floor so I decide not to be a pussy and sleep through it too. I’ve only been in Thailand eight months after all. Maybe this is normal. The rocking helps and I’m soon sleeping again. One hour later, a guy pounds on our door. He’s screaming in Thaï. My friend translates, “Water is going up, must leave the city.” I look out the window, no water. The Thaï friend shrugs. I sleep another hour. By the time I get out, the street seems so empty compared to last night. In broad day light, scared bar girls, transvestites, pimps, and money boys – some still grotesquely made-up from last night – are a scary sight. They’re looking down the street, petrified, as if expecting some Godzilla to come crashing down. Where my bike had been parked the night before with a dozen others, only mine is left. I drive down the street, and I realize the water stopped just before the alley I slept in. Ambulances are plowing through the mud, drenching shocked bystanders. One guy is walking down the street in his swimwear, bleeding profusely and yet I’m still a couple hundred of meters from the beach. I turn into the major strip leading to the sea to get a look of the shore. A jet ski is in the middle of the road, further down I spot a fridge, motorbikes, and heaps of junk. In the gutter, a little girl is picking up big beautiful sea shells. Fire trucks, police cars, helicopters, curious Thais and tourists pushing to see the beach, others, shocked and panicked, trying to flee: everything or everyone moving is on the brink of collision. I press down Soi Bangla but a wall of cars piled onto each other has formed a natural barrage. There’s a mixed feeling of apocalypse and Sunday stroll as people check out the morning’s destruction. I try some smaller parallel streets. Everywhere, I witness the same chaos and destruction. A guy is getting carried on a surfboard, his foot missing, so white I’m not sure he’s not dead. Beach chairs, broken glass, and fake Vuitton luggage lay in sandy piles on the road. I bump into an American teacher I know. His eyes are bugged out. “My girlfriend fled. I can’t find her. I saw the third wave, dude. I saw it push the cars up the street. There’s a another wave coming, dude. The Big One. It should be here anytime now. We’re all gonna die if we stay here.” Die? Naaah. I wouldn’t be writing this e-mail if I’d died. I finally manage to drive through a construction yard to make it to the beach. Looters are now everywhere, grabbing all they can. As I get closer to the beach, I see a car perched on a one storey high wall, another that’s cut in two, more jet skis crushed against flattened motorbikes. Finally, I can see the sea. There’s only a short strip of grey sand left, and then water of the exact same color. The shocking thing is, despite the dreary color, the amount of debris. The beach and the water are covered with little bits and pieces of junk. The only way to tell the difference between the beach and the sea is that the junk on the sea is moving. Here too, looters are carrying away unopened bottles of whiskey, underwater cameras, Von Dutch caps, or Thaï handicraft. On the beachfront, the buildings are still standing but the first and second storey windows are all shattered, everything is covered in mud and junk, and vehicles and boats are smashed. I walk to the beach and I see two flip flops, my size, side by side. I assume they’re held together by something but they’re not. This pair of flip flops managed to stay together despite a tsunami. They’re not even new. It as if the guy wearing them just disappeared and his flip flops stayed on the beach where he’d been standing when the wave hit him. I decide that this will be my contribution to the looting and slip my feet into them. The horizon swells and people on higher ground begin to shout. The few people on the beach begin to run for the walkway that still runs along the beach, half of its original width collapsed. For the first time, I’m really scared. I run up too. The wave crashes in but doesn’t make it past the walkway. This wasn’t the big one. Still, I’ve heard of aftershocks, and the psyched out Californian could be right. It suddenly doesn’t feel like such a hot idea to stay here any longer. Besides, the phone networks are down and my parents, presumably back in Nai Harn, might be worried. I begin to drive away from Patong, up the mountain that separates it from the other half of the island. It’s a massive exodus. The three lanes of the road are being used to drive out. Nobody is driving in. Along the side of the roads, Thais have stopped at varying altitudes, waiting for the Big One to wipe Patong off the map while they look on. For the first time, I see Phuketians walk, actually fleeing the city by foot. All along the road, on both sides, there are throngs of Thais. The pick-ups, the trucks, the motorbikes, almost all are well beyond their full capacity. People are clinging to them like rafts or US helicopters leaving Saigon. Again, it’s a doomsday meet Tour de France feeling. In this traffic, it’s impossible for the ambulances to make it to all the hospitals on the other side of the mountain: Vachira, Bangkok Phuket, International, Mission, etc. Everybody must be piling in at Patong. I’ve been there. It’s one evil hospital. It is a slow crawl up the mountain and I’m running out of gas. I make it to the top and on the other side there are gas stations. But people are already stocking up on gas, sugar, water, etc. I find out both bridges connecting the island have collapsed. Some of the trucks that usually carry day workers are now filled with fleeing westerners. Everything is surreal. I manage to get fuel and make it to Nai Harn. My parents are fine. I’m now home and I can here the sirens of the ambulances that are still coming into Bangkok Phuket Hospital from the rest of the island. Now there’s the question of the body count. Guys in Naiharn were saying 160 bodies had been piled up at the police station. One other guy said 39, my neighbor said hundreds. Wait and see… 26 Dec 2004 19:00 Location : Beauvais, France

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