To all of my dear friends and family,
I cannot even attempt to adequately express how much your numerous phone calls and e-mails praying for my safe return from Thailand have meant to me. It has been simply overwhelming, and I sincerely apologize for causing any of you to worry about me for even a moment.
Although I have told the story over and over, I know I haven't been able to reach out to everyone personally. As succinctly as I can tell it, this is how it happened. Geoff and I were in Phuket for Christmas, staying at The Chedi hotel, a beautiful resort situated very high on a hill in a cove overlooking the ocean - one of the most beautiful sights you will ever see.
At 8:30 a.m. on the day after Christmas I felt an earthquake that a Californian wouldn't even bother to wake up for. We went to breakfast like every other morning and then walked down to the beach to relax on a lounge and plan out the day. We noticed right away that the tide had receded very far out, but when you are on the other side of the world you don't know what normal is. There were lots of tourists intrigued by this incredible sandbar and they walked out as far as they could, but instead we chose to simply enjoy the view from afar. Within minutes, the tide came rolling in without warning and rose up about two feet, catching lots of sunbathers off-guard and the sight of them jumping out of their lounge chairs was almost amusing. The water hit the retaining wall behind us and then retreated as quickly as it came. Yes, it was strange, but no one seemed to be anything more than curious. As we walked down the beach to help the local shop that resembled a thatched cottage retrieve sarongs and T-shirts that had floated out to sea, we noticed numerous small holes in the sand (about 3 inches in diameter) and you could feel a blast of cold air emerging from them. It occurred to us that this could be connected to the earthquake that came an hour or so before, and looking back, it should have been a cause for concern.
Geoff pulled out racks of clothing from the ocean and the last clear memory I have is throwing a parasol onto the beach while the water was lingering around my calves. Within seconds, the water began to rise with an agenda, and although there was no clear tidal wave that we witnessed - it is hard to believe that one didn't exist somewhere. I can't say that I actually sensed life-threatening or imminent danger, but it clicked that my digital camera was in a bag on a ledge that was about 4 feet high and in jeopardy of being washed away. Since it contained the memories of our trip, I ran for it with a mission and was completely focused on saving it. I got ahead of the water for a moment and grabbed the bag without a second to spare, and at this time the water was at least waist-high.
People were being tossed around like styrofoam cups and teak lounges and umbrellas that were essentially unmovable beforehand, flew around like popsicle sticks. I managed to navigate around the fallen trees and make it to the stairs ahead of Geoff. I spotted him immediately in the distance, kids clinging to him like an anchor. I was screaming for him to hurry up so that he could use me as a reference point to safety. When he finally made it to where I was, with the children that could hang on in tow, we ran up the steps as though our lives depended on it, and that was the truth. The water chased us and it didn't seem like a race that we could ever win. We saw it rise over the 30-foot retaining wall, crashing into the pool, as the roofs of the lower bungalows disappeared.
It was too frightening to look back at that point, and we ran and ran up the hundreds of steps to our villa that had to have been several hundred feet above sea-level. We had no ideas of the magnitude of the disaster we had just witnessed or the tragedy that we had just been a part of. You simply could not believe your eyes. Had our hotel not been in a cove and on a huge hill, we wouldn't have stood a chance. It took about a half an hour for the water that had just caused unprecedented life-loss and unsurpassed devastation to dissipate.
An hour later, Geoff took a walk around the area of the hotel to gather information and to assess the situation. What he saw is unprintable, but by now you have all probably seen the disturbing visuals on television continuously and repeatedly. The images are haunting, and not from a standpoint of morbid curiosity, but because the film doesn't lie, and there are human beings in there. It was as though the ocean decided to take over the land.
As traumatic as it was, we know that the odds were against us and that we are lucky to be here to tell the story. And most of all, we are grateful to have you in our lives. Thank you for caring. Be as generous as you can afford to be to assist in the recovery efforts. And please don't cross Thailand off your list as a vacation destination. They rely on tourism and it is an amazingly beautiful country filled with friendly and genuine people. Chiang Mai and Koh Samui are not to be missed and completely unaffected by this tragedy. More than 155,000 are confirmed dead and counting. Four thousand Americans are missing. Phi Phi Island is gone. They need our help - $2.50 is equivalent to 100 baht and can feed an entire family for a week. If you can't count on the ocean to stay put, what can you count on? Each other. Please consider any kind of donation.
(Editor's note: Julie is a 1985 Schreiber graduate. She recently moved to Los Angeles to start her business, Mulholland Drive Entertainment, which deals with branding in advertising.)
In many issues, I have read the "Real Estate" column by Patricia Heller with interest, often finding the information quite useful. But in the Jan. 6, 2005 edition, respecting the "excellent starting option for many first time homeowners" of buying a "two-family starter home," she states that "there are many added tax benefits to owning an owner-occupied income property." I think it would have been very helpful to a first-time home buyer had she spelled out precisely what these tax benefits are. Maybe she could follow up on this in a future column. Thank you.
Sidney M. Segall