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U.S. Trio Wait For The Big One On The Beach

U.S. Trio Wait For The Big One On The Beach


by Richard S. Ehrlich

PHUKET, Thailand -- Three Americans remained on a beach enjoying the ''beauty,'' ''energy'' and ''mass of white'' of an approaching tsunami, and marveled in awe when it suddenly sucked all the water from the bay.

"My girlfriend and I were meditating on the beach because we did yoga and meditation every morning at a certain spot which was more secluded from the bungalows -- yoga and visualization meditation like in the Tibetan tradition," said Paula Crevoshay, 50, an artist and designer from Cedar Crest, New Mexico.

"Our eyes were closed, because we were in meditation, at the time that the tsunami was building. And my girlfriend, in her deep meditation, realized there was no [sound of] water, no birds, no nothing. It felt eerie to her, so she came out early from her meditation.

"We opened our eyes and she said, 'Paula, what is that?' and I said, 'I've never seen anything like it.' And she said, 'I'm so glad you're here with me as a witness. Nobody would believe me, what we're seeing.'"

The approaching, mesmerizing tsunami quickly turned into an apocalypse on that morning after Christmas at their 120 U.S. dollar-a-night (4,800 baht) resort.

"It was intensive. A white, massive, bubbling wave that never broke," Mrs. Crevoshay said.

"What we saw was, first the water was sucked away within an instant of being a high tide. Gone. And we all went, 'Oh my God!' And we looked out and you could see just this mass of white.

"I've never seen that color of white on nature or earth before. The water -- what made me fear it -- was never breaking. It was just coming. Even though it was way far out, you could see how powerful.

"I, for some unknown reason, clicked in that this maybe is a tsunami, even though I've never seen one," she said. "But what clued me into the fact that even though this beautiful force of nature was coming towards us, which looked phenomenal and had us like rabbits in the headlights from its beauty -- which is an ironical thing to say -- it never broke and it was coming.

"Then we saw boats being sucked in. We began to run up the mountain because there were stairs to our place on the beach, and it was the highest place on the mountain which is the only reason we are safe," she said.

"The water came crashing in. Bungalows started to break like matchboxes and crash. The water was very, very high. People were running all around in bedlam," Ms. Crevoshay said.

"We ran and we just made it up in time," she said.

Unscathed Ms. Crevoshay, her injured and infected husband an another wounded American man described their escape from the killer waves in recorded interviews at a hospital in Bangkok after leaving devastated Khao Lak on Thailand's west coast, about 40 miles north of Phuket island.

"It was a beautiful Sunday morning and like my friend would joke, 'Another shitty day in paradise,' but this one became true," said Ms. Crevoshay's husband, 52-year-old gem expert Martin Bell, who had been on a different, nearby beach at the time.

A Swiss man pointed out a long "white line" of water which "just kept getting longer and longer and longer" approaching their resort, Mr. Bell said.

"We were watching the wave and it was marching across the bay for a long time, maybe 15 minutes or so," he said.

"It was beautiful. And people on the beach started talking about the beauty of the phenomenon which no one had ever seen before. And we continued to blithely sit on the beach and watch one more gift on this beautiful day.

"At one point the hotel staff, a couple of [Thai] fellows came down and said, 'Come in, come on back up, come on back up,' and they were polite and we pretty much ignored them," Mr. Bell recalled, laughing in his hospital bed.

"The water had disappeared entirely from the beach, out to a distance of about half a mile, which constitutes a lot of water.

"I had been talking to the people on the beach about how much energy I felt that wave contained, and I realized that there is probably a relationship between that white streak on the horizon and the untold gallons of missing water, and that the amount of energy was way beyond anything I had imagined it might be.

"What I wondered instantly was, 'What happened to the water?' and 'What is going to happen to the water next?' It was evident to me that that water was going to come right back to where it had come from, very fast.

"On the beach, there were maybe a few dozen people, mostly Swedes and Germans, a few Swiss, a couple of Italians, there were two families from Prague, there were maybe two or three American couples."

Mr. Bell said he started shouting for everyone to run, and they did, but one American man remained on the beach gawking at the dried up bay and the approaching tsunami.

"I turned to look back and realized one fellow, Jerry, was still watching. So I ran back to persuaded him that that was not prudent. I shouted at him, 'Look...there's going to be a lot of water here, very fast. Run!'

"And when I saw that he was running, I turned and started running, but I didn't have enough time to make it back."

Waves pulverized the coast, repeatedly hurtling Mr. Bell underwater.

"Now it's surreal. The world changes. The universe is completely different," he said.

"People who actually witnessed me being hit, told me that it towered over me, about 30 and 40 feet. So this is a lot of water. And it's not just like a wave that is the thickness of a piece of paper. There's a lot of water behind this," he said.

"This is thick water and it picked up the concrete sea wall along the way in, it picked up every table and chair. It picked up the bar and the refrigerators and all the material that was there. It picked up the railings from the pool, it ripped them off," he said.

After being twirled, slammed, repeatedly submerged and almost drowned in a "maelstrom" of "sheets of plywood and beach chairs made out of teak, big heavy things, and tables," Mr. Bell eventually grabbed a tree and was rescued by a Thai.

"When I was caught up in it, as my clothes were being ripped off, I wondered what was going to happen, and so mortality was probably the first thing I thought of.

"I knew that there were people, that within minutes of the moment that I was experiencing, they were having the same experience that I was, and they would not survive. I knew it in a rather abstract way, but I actually thought about it pretty much in those words," he said.

"The reason I'm in the hospital is I have a puncture wound which is quite deep, which became infected.

"I've got scratches and contusions and bruises virtually from head to toe. It was like being tumbled in a cement mixer with bricks or something. I was pretty well beat up," Mr. Bell said.

Jerry Allen, a 61-year-old American gem dealer who lives in Ibiza, Spain, was also at the hospital and profusely thanked Mr. Bell for coming back to convince him that watching a tsunami impact would be deadly.

"I was a schmuck," Mr. Allen said.

"I was stupidly standing on the beach watching the wave, going, 'Wow, look at that energy coming in!' And everybody else was running," he said. "I was really dumb, and he [Mr. Bell] was running off the beach out by the swimming pool and I was still watching, and he ran back and said, 'Go now!' and basically he probably saved my life.

"If you've seen a tsunami coming, it's a lot of energy," Mr. Allen said.

"I was in the water, and I got hit and banged around and I almost died, and I'm alive."

*************

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 26 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is www.geocities.com/glossograph/

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