I hope you are well.
The marketing project I was working
in the Maldives has ended after the hotel and everything I owned was
destroyed. After surviving the tsunami, I'm heading back to Vietnam
and Murphy. Below is an account of my experience, written right after
being rescued from the island... three
days with no food and water, and anxiously waiting for the next wave.
I will be glad to be back with Murphy again, and I am glad to be alive.
It was 11.00
am, a perfect Maldives day, 90 degrees, sunny, and no clouds. I was
office, at the northern
end of the island, which was 20 meters across. I was awakened that
morning by a light earthquake, but it didn't seem strong enough to
create a tsunami. Suddenly, I heard a strange bump against the door,
and people outside were screaming, "The children! The children!!" I
went outside and saw that the ocean was now level with our island,
and to my horror,
a wall of water, boiling, frothing, angry as hell, was bearing straight
down at us. There was a strange mist that looked like thick fog that
blocked out the sun. I stopped breathing, and tried to decide where
to run. But where could I run, when there were no double-story buildings,
and we were just one meter above sea level, and there was deep water
on all sides? I decided to go to the reception area, where there were
pillars that could offer some place to hang onto.
When I got there, I
found guests and staff screaming and rooted to the spot as the first
began to hit the island. The furniture
was already being swept away, and three huge glass windows exploded,
showering glass into the water where guests without shoes were trying
to stand up. Within seconds the water was up to my waist, and we couldn't
tell if the island was sinking or the sea rising. The water was rising
all around us so evenly it was hard to know that whatever was coming,
what direction it was coming in. As I braced myself against the wall,
I could feel it cracking. The wave slammed into the resort, crushing
me against the walls of the executive offices. My cell phone, keys,
resort ID, watch and sunglasses were ripped off, as I desperately inched
my way along, with water churning so violently I could hardly
stand up. As the water rose, I grabbed hold of children who were being
washed out to sea and whose parents were missing, and threw them up
onto the reception counter. As I looked back to see if I could help
anyone else, the full force of the tsunami hit, crushing palm trees
and instantly destroying the executive offices whose windows smashed,
and then the walls collapsed, sending staff trapped inside (including
my assistants), computers, TV's, filing cabinets, desks and broken
glass and shattered wood straight out to sea.
I grabbed hold of a
pillar as the waves continued to strike, and the water was now up to
Most guests were clinging to anything
they could find, and some had horrible injuries from the smashed glass
that was everywhere. (I was barefoot and so were most of the guests.)
I saved an 80 year old woman who washed by in front of me, just before
she went out to sea, and as I could no longer hang on, I hauled myself
up to the reception counter, where a security guard handed me his walkie-talkie
and fled to the roof. A guest with a cut so deep on his leg, his bone
was sticking out, was pointed out to me, and I quickly grabbed
a towel that somehow was nearby, soaking wet, and bandaged a hasty
tourniquet and elevated his leg as I was screaming for the doctor to
help me, but he was catatonic, as were most of the staff, totally unable
to function in the situation. I was covered in blood as we tried to
stop the bleeding, which nearly killed him, his wife was so panicked
and scared she grabbed my neck so tight I could hardly breathe, screaming
at me in French, and just then man went into shock and passed out.
wave after wave smashed against the resort, it felt like the sea was
on fast forward, the waves came so quickly and so fiercely. We
watched as planking wood from the lagoon boardwalk and restaurant began
to surge through reception, cracking pillars. The whole structure
was groaning against the pressure, ready to collapse like the buildings
all around us. Then the wall behind us collapsed into the jewelry store,
and as the water passed over my head I blacked out from fear, which
was so intense that I wasn't even thinking anymore if I was going to
die, I knew I was going to die. I just didn't know when. Or how. What
was it going to be like to drown? Was there going to be any debris
that I would be able to cling to when I was swept away into the open
A receptionist colleague
screamed at me, "WHAT IS HAPPENING??? WHAT IS HAPPENING???" As we desperately
tried to pull ourselves together,
heard two gas canisters explode from the restaurant, blowing off part
of the roof, and then the water sports center and doctor's clinic were
crushed by another wave, where staff were clinging to the roof as the
palm thatch disintegrated. We were lucky that not all the waterfront
bungalows collapsed, because the debris would have crushed us to death.
only staff member there with a uniform and name tag at that end of
the island, I was thrown in charge, and now with the walkie-talkie
I desperately tried to contact the other end of the island. There was
no answer. Then, as quickly as the water came up, it was gone, leaving
fish flopping on the floor of the lobby and seaweed draped everywhere.
I shouted at staff
to get a guest list for a head count, and screamed at guests STAY OFF
THE BEACH!! GET AWAY FROM THE JETTY!!! DO NOT MOVE
NEAR THE WATER!!!! As guests regrouped, I looked out to sea in the
opposite direction, where my eyes popped out of my head: There was
another wave coming right back at us, even bigger than the first, and
worse, full of air conditioners,
refrigerators, water heaters, mattresses, deck chairs, and even people.
GET BACK!!! THE WATER'S COMING BACK!!! I screamed as guests ran for
to grab hold of. When the second wave hit, it was worse than
the first, and we desperately tried to hang on as the dangerous debris
smashed its way through the lobby again. This was followed by two more
waves, which were slightly smaller, that came from opposite directions...
and then there was silence.
As I assembled guests
together for a head count, a staffer from the other end of the island
ran in and said that
there was a 50 foot wave coming,
and we needed to get to the spa, where there was a bit more shelter.
This set off the guests who wailed and screamed as they ran towards
the new shelter. As I took up the rear, I heard a seaplane land, probably
unaware of the danger. I ran like hell to the jetty, waving my arms
to the pilots to tell them to go away. They did not see me, and landed.
As they tied up to the pontoon, I noticed an ominous wave heading straight
for the plane, and like a horror movie, I actually saw the seaplane
getting sucked under by the vortexes and eddies that were 20 feet across.
I screamed at the cabin crew who was on the dock, frantically
trying to untie the rope, as the engines screaming, got closer and
closer to the water. I got down on my hands and knees, covering my
head with my hand to prevent injury, screaming into the walkie-talkie
to see if anyone could contact the pilots. I was just waiting for the
engines to smash into the water and see the plane flip over, when the
crew cut the rope, jumped on board, and the plane bobbed up and took
off. As I watched it take off, they dipped their wings to show us help
was on the way.
I looked behind me
to see a fifth wave bearing straight down, and as I ran back to reception,
I was too late. I was lifted off my feet and carried straight into
the lobby again. When the wave subsided, I ran to the
spa, passing the general manager's house, where his son's nanny was
nearly being washed away. I rescued her and his son, carried them to
safety, where 60 terrified French, Italian and UK guests were huddled
in total shock. Quickly I set up a triage unit to treat the broken
bones and horrible cuts. Half the guests there were missing family,
and were threatening me with death if I didn't let them get to see
where they were, but the island had been cut in half, a river of water
now bisecting it, both ends of the island had lost more than
50 meters of land (and had come within 10 meters of washing away reception)
and coconut trees were being washed out to sea.
For the next six hours,
we rode out wave after wave as the sea gradually calmed down, but at
least five warnings came to us via radio that a huge
wave was still coming, 100 feet, 200 feet high. Guests suffered in
the strong sun, and we found a tarp to create a shelter for the 15
children without parents. That evening, when we had got all guests
together, we sandbagged what was left of the island restaurant and
set up all night patrols to watch the sea in case other waves came,
we had a full moon fortunately. No one slept that night, we were terrified
of a wave hitting in darkness, and all night we just huddled together
waiting for sunrise. Someone found a functioning flashlight, and with
the guests secure, we checked out our rooms, which had been totally
demolished, everything washed out to sea. When the sun came up, there
were champagne bottles, passports, silverware, dinner plates, business
cards and hundreds of branches and tree trunks washed up on the beach.
It looked like Titanic, Lost, Lord of the Flies and Survivor all rolled
We spent a slow day
letting the shock sink in, and separating the guests and staff that
were breaking down mentally. That was hard,
were just so panicked and in shock that we had to set up an area that
was isolated. Eventually we got the guests on two huge speedboats to
take them to Male. As the last guest left, all the staff took off our
and just burst into tears. We didn't get off the island until two days
later, and in the long, slow, hot hours that passed by extremely slowly,
we tried to talk, smile laugh as best we could. We salvaged what we
could of our belongings... some things washed up on the beach, some
things wrapped around trees, and some things covered in mud. We showered
the sea and rationed the bottled water that we found on the beaches.
We had three terrifying warnings come back about more waves. That sent
the staff screaming and scrambling for trees. But no more waves came,
only fluctuations in the sea.
we boarded the seaplanes that came as a convoy to evacuate us to get
us back to Male, we flew over the destroyed island. With the full
devastation clear, the staff broke down on the planes as we flew over.
Over 100 rooms demolished, no restaurants intact, and debris and trash
was everywhere in the lagoon. As we flew the 30 minute flight, we saw
tons of debris floating in the channel, and other islands on fire,
people on the beaches waving, and sunken ships. It wasn't until that
evening that we heard the death toll and the devastation elsewhere
had reached 20,000, which seemed horrific at the time but wasn't the
eventually unbelievable death toll that there was.
We had survived,
but somehow didn't know how.