Tuesday, January 04, 2005


The year ended with a bang. After Christmas, no less, when vicious tsunamis smashed into Asian coastlines obliterating holiday resorts, villages, and towns.

We were in Bandar Botanic, Klang, with some young adults celebrating Christmas at a friend’s new home. An SMS came in saying 28 people died in an earthquake in Penang. Earthquake? 28 dead? Now, that’s unheard of. Not in Malaysia anyway. Some hoax, I thought, not having read the papers nor gone online throughout the Christmas weekend.

Someone changed channels on the TV and there it was: earthquake in North Sumatra, tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. The truth sunk in, and incredulity turned to horror. Geologist Kerry Sieh of the California Institute of Technology said on CNN, "Sunday was one of the biggest earthquakes in the region in the past 200 years."

I don’t know about you but the scale of the devastation across the globe – 10 nations in all – has occupied my mind since then. I scour the web, clicking link after links; the indescribable terror as the first waves swept through unsuspecting locals and tourists, the heart-wrenching scenes of the tsunamis’ aftermath in Penang, Acheh, Phuket, Sri Lanka. Washed-out coastlines, flattened villages, debris-strewn towns, bloated bodies on beaches. I check blog after blogs, taking in words, pictures and videos of this unprecedented display of nature’s fury in morbid fascination, numbed and lost for words.

To date over 155,000 have perished, and millions have been displaced. The numbers are sure to rise even as aid begins pouring in.

"She didn't deserve to die like this, I can't believe that something like this can happen to someone so beautiful," Australian Asha Balachandra said of her mother Magdalene Balachandra, who died when the van she was in was washed away in Sri Lanka.

British tsunami survivor Shenth Ravindra was luckier. He escaped from a train that was swept off its tracks in a town near Galle, leaving over a thousand dead. “I know it has been an unbelievable sequence of events that enabled me to escape in the first place," he said, adding "I won't be complaining about being unlucky in anything in life ever again."

A mongrel, Selvakumar, saved the life of his owner’s son Dinakaran, 7, when he dragged him from the oncoming tsunami by his shirt collar.

23-year old McMurray who had been struggling to stay afloat when waters flooded the Merlin Hotel in Phuket turned to see a little Russian girl wedged between two columns frantically keeping her head above water."I dived straight back in there. I grabbed the little girl and I held her in my arms and let the current take me to the stairs. I couldn't imagine what would have happened to her if I had left her."

Rod Tokubo, and Joseph Cienega, of Salinas, California abandoned their golf vacation in Takuapa, Thailand and headed for Phuket to help recover the dead.

These and other tales of selflessness and survival will quickly become urban legends, if not bestsellers.

Then there’s the story of Governments in Asia conceding that they had failed to issue warnings after the initial earthquake. "We have no equipment here that can warn about tsunamis," said Budi Waluyo, an official with the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, Indonesia. "The instruments are very expensive and we don't have money to buy them." That will change now, tragically on hindsight, and I pray it will come soon.

But Asia Online journalist David Simmons has a thing or two to say about heroism and clich├ęs, and he casts his cynical eye on the massive cleanup in Thailand. Survivors are finding their feet if not their voice, and life goes on. But not for thousands. Reminiscing on how small spur-of-the-moment decisions have made a huge difference between life and death, Simmons writes, “(T)he line between us is imperceptibly, arbitrarily, unpredictably small.”


Harry said...

I welcome myself to this most-interesting blog of your. Time only permits me to scan a certain quanity of your work, but all that I managed here tonight, even the Bono bits, were a good read. I found "Technology, sex, and feng shui" of special interest, since I ran a training aids library while in the US Marine Corps years ago, and we came under the same "attack" there. Being in-charge at the time, I developed the ingenious (I thought) idea of handing a client finished work with the words, "Here you go, sir. This is it.", rather than the "Here you go, sir -- what do you think?" All in all, it relates somewhat to your piece on survival, altho in those days, things were so much simpler. Do keep writing.

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