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     Volume 4 Issue 29 | January 14, 2005 |

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Special Feature

Chased by the Tsunami

Nabeel Atique

Tuesday Dec. 26th was a warm sunny day on the beaches of Thailand. It was our third day on this beach community of Railay. I wanted to take a boat out into the ocean and climb a rock called Ao Nang Tower. We had a late start, so we decided to stay on the mainland. That decision was probably the single most important decision of the day, considering how the day would unfold.

The calm before the Tsumami: Nothing could prepare the inhabitants and the holiday makers for what was to follow

I started up my third climb and almost made it to the top, but had to take a break about five feet from the anchor at the top. I hung off a bolt getting mentally psyched for my last moves to the top. All of a sudden there was commotion down below. People started screaming and running. I watched dumbfounded for about 20 seconds. I didn't have a clue as to what was going on. I yelled to be lowered. Once on the ground, someone yelled to me "Big wave coming!". I was still tied to the rope. I had to untie the knot and it was nerve wrecking. It took me about 10 seconds, but felt like an eternity. The same rope that had protected me could have led to my doom. My friend Adam and I started running inland. In my haste, I neglected to turn around and take a look at the wave. Probably a good thing. Every second counted, as I would later find out.

We ran as fast as we could and followed some locals, as they would best know where to take shelter. What scared me the most was the look of terror on their faces. They were shaking with fear. At this point we turned it up a notch and we bolted up the hillside, passing people, pulling on vines and branches. Once up top we talked to several tourists as they gradually appeared. One had a cell phone--he had found out that there was an earthquake in Indonesia and Thailand had been hit by a tsunami. But the bit of information that scared us the most was that there would be aftershocks and more tidal waves were coming. We tried to figure out how high we were on the hill top and guessed about 150 feet. I was not even sure we were safe there. I was very concerned about my mother and family in Bangladesh, Bangladesh being quite vulnerable to natural disasters.

More people had cell phones up top and we were getting bits of information. We heard that Phi Phi, an island nearby, was obliterated. We also heard Phuket had been hit with waves several stories high. As for Railay, we weren't sure what was happening. No one had accurate information. We couldn't go down because we didn't know when the next wave was going to hit. We were able to find a lookout into the ocean and the sea looked calm, but that didn't mean there wouldn't be more waves. At about 4 pm Adam and I decided to go down and assess our position. We descended the trail and as soon as we hit the ground we saw a dead body being moved and we too lent a hand. We knew that the sights we would see would not be pleasant. The shops and structures along the beach had been damaged. We saw another dead body being moved. Later a helicopter appeared and we were guessing it was ferrying the dead and wounded. There was a boat in our resort's swimming pool. Another one had been thrown into the reception area. There were dead fish in some rooms.

That night we stayed up high. I paid to use someone's cell phone and got through to my mother in Bangladesh almost immediately. My mother was in tears. Bangladesh and Thailand are almost in the same time zone and she'd been following the tsunami on the news. Letting her know I was safe was a big relief. But how safe was I? I really didn't know. Things were certainly not normal. I didn't know what was in store for us.

Early the next day huge ferries were arriving to evacuate people off Railay to Krabi. Being in the ferry was nerve wrecking. We were travelling the same seas that had claimed so many lives less than a day ago. Our flight from Krabi left the next day, so Adam and I decided to spend the night in Krabi. Even though Krabi seemed safe, it was still off the coast of the Andaman Sea. My mind would not rest until we were in Bangkok.

The shock from the Tsunami and the devastation and deaths Adam and I had witnessed left us distraught and disturbed. We were physically unscathed, but mentally worn. We met a man who had survived the tsunami in Phuket. All he had left were the clothes he was wearing. He had held onto a tree and miraculously survived. He didn't know if his friends were alive.

The next day we flew to Bangkok. Bangkok airport was a scene. Consulate and embassy officials were standing with their countries flags and signs. It was obvious that this was an international catastrophe with many countries affected. After a quiet night in Bangkok, Adam left for the United States and I caught my flight to Dhaka the next morning. Arriving at Dhaka and meeting my family was the best reunion I have ever had.

I feel extremely lucky to have survived this disaster. A series of lucky decisions and I am still alive. I was planning to venture out into the ocean that day to climb from a boat--that could have been fatal. Adam and I had planned to kayak and snorkel one day--that could have been fatal. We were right in the middle of the tsunami, but we were able to take shelter in the hills.

I just hope and pray for the people all over the world who have suffered incomprehensible loss. I urge every single person who can help, to do so, in any little way they can. Entire families have been wiped out. In some villages, generations have been wiped out. Children have been orphaned. It's our responsibility as citizens of this world to share what we have and help rebuild the lives of the survivors.

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