sad stories

After a jet lagged week in Bangkok, James and I decided we would make
our way back to Phi Phi to try and lay these ghosts to rest. After a
15 hour coach drive we arrived in phuket which was also partly
affected by the tsunami wave. We stayed in Patong beach. When I had
visited before in October the streets were always bustling and the
beach was home to thousands of tourists and backpackers. When we
wandered through the town yesterday lunch time the streets were
deserted and every restaurant and shop was empty despite the fact that
most buildings had no damage at all.
Along the sea front the physical signs of destruction were more
obvious. There were piles of rubble beside the road. The travel agents
where I booked my ferry to Phi Phi last time was completely gone and
in its place just a pile of bricks. There were a few signs saying
‘Closed for reservation. Open soon’. The desperation of the locals was
clear. They all called out to us begging us to buy just one small item
from their shops.
We spoke to Marco who owns a tailor shop on the main road about 1km
away from the sea front. He described how the wave flooded his shop
and ruined all of his stock. He went on to show us how far inland the
sea went by pointing to a shopping mall a further 500m in land that
was also flooded.

We spoke to another man running a small clothes stall. When we
mentioned the tsunami he almost broke down and told us how he had
saved for 7 years to open a business on the sea front. It had been
open only weeks before the tsunami and he lost everything. He said the
tsunami was the worst thing that had ever happened- it had destroyed
his life. We left his stall with tears in our own eyes.
It was difficult to understand why the streets of Patong were so empty
when most of the town is in fully functioning order. Only a few
buildings are in drastic need of repair. The locals seemed devastated
when we told them we were leaving but thanked us for coming and said
‘please tell all your friends to come and visit Patong’.


Well yesterday was quite an eventful day. We left Phuket at 8.30am and
at we stood on deck and watched the boat turn the corner to Ton
Sai Bay, the main pier of Phi Phi.
Although we’d seen the pictures and heard reports, nothing could
prepare us for our first sight of Phi Phi. It was 100 times worse than
I imagined and I still had images in my head from leaving the island
by helicopter last time.
The buildings next to the pier had their first floors missing and you
could right through to the other bay. This was not possible before.
When we stepped onto the island we saw huge piles of rubble
everywhere, many buildings in a state of collapse and eerie, vast
areas of land where there is absolutely nothing. Ton Sai village
really is gone.

The first person we saw was Steve from Barakuda, the dive shop I was
learning to dive with. He showed us the back of the shop where there
used to be classrooms and loads of shops and bungalows. There was
nothing there except wasteland. Even half the palm trees were missing.
After finding a bungalow high off the ground we took a walk around the
island trying to work out where we had both been on the day of the
tsunami, I saw the building where I had Christmas lunch -now it’s just
a concrete frame with debris inside.Most of our favourite restaurants
are gone

As we walked past the reservoir, I saw a small rucksack lying on the
ground and suddenly realised it was mine! it was completely empty and
had been forced open I saw my camera case nearby but it was also
empty. I had already assumed that my belongings would have been looted
or burned and was amazed to find my bag. I sifted through the debris
on the off chance that I might find something else- I couldn’t believe
it when I found more of my things; toiletries, insurance documents
with my name on them and the clothes I was wearing on the day- ripped
to shreds.
Although my room was not there, the bathroom was still standing and my
belongings had been washed in there- my main rucksack was not in there
and it was obvious that someone had gone through and taken everything
of value. I collected my favourite T-shirt, my Swahili phrasebook and
a card from my family wishing my goodluck with my travels. Everything
is ruined and covered in silt but I will disinfect them and send them
home to remind me of how lucky I am.

When we went to find James’ bungalow, there was not a single building
in sight. There were only trees and bits of debris such as shoes, CDs
and ripped clothes. There were no landmarks so we could only guess
where his bungalow would have been. We walked around looking at the
place where I was first rescued- the mountain where I spent the night
fearing for my life and the spot where I was helicoptered off the
island. The day was hard but we got through it.

In the evening we met up by chance with a girl called Clare whom James
had known before the tsunami. She had been on the island for six weeks
helping with the clear-up. We had a great time speaking to her and we
where starting to feel as though we were finally dealing with the
whole situation, when the band stopped playing. They had heard a
report of another earthquake and possible tsunami. Taking no chances,
James and I ran back to our bungalow, grabbed our passports, water and
money and ran as high as we could up the side of a mountain, we kept
slipping in our attempts to get as high as possible. About an hour
later, the power went out and the wind picked up- we heard people
screaming below for eveyone to get up high “tsunami”!

So we spent our first night back on Phi Phi back up a mountain fearing
for our lives again- I can’t even tell you how scared we were knowing
what happened last time- if there was another tsunami we would die. We
were finally given the all-clear at about 4AM and we agreed that at
first light we would pack and leave. When we woke up this morning, I
felt strangely safe- it was almost as though we had survived again-
but there was still a tense atmosphere among everyone on the island.
All night friends and family from across the globe were calling and
texting to make sure we were safe. People we knew on the island
couldn’t believe this had happened to us on our first night and were
convinced we would leave that day.
However, after seeing the devastation and struggling locals we decided
to stay and help. Tomorrow we will join with Hi Phi Phi- the
organisation running the clear-up and we will give back to the people
that helped us.


On Wednesday we got up early and made our way to the “tool shed” to
collect rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows and gloves. We arrived at our
clearing up destination to find that we were cleaning up the reservoir
pump house; a huge building piled high with debris and heavy
machinery. We need to move all the rubbish and tip it into the
reservoir so that the diggers could move it- whilst doing this we had
to save as much wood as possible to firewood. The work wasd physically
demanding but between approx 15 of us, we cleared the building in one
day. In the heat we managed to move about 4 tons of debris and silt.
It was painful but rewarding at the end of the day when the floors
were clean. There was a bike that had been wedged under some heavy
machinery- it had to be smashed into bits before it could be removed.
It was lunchtime but James was determined to remove the bike and spent
40 minutes or so twisting, bending and smashing the bike until it
finally came free.
When we cleaned the drain funnels, cockroaches spiders and mice ran
out- the smell was overbearing but its what we expected after the
rubbish had been left for 3 months.

Today we are supposed to be cleaning the beach but due to bad timing
for the low tide this was not possible and has been postpones until
saturday. This evening one of the Thai residents that owns a
restaurant, organised a traditional Thai floating lantern ceremony to
remember the people who lost their lives on Phi Phi and for the good
fortune of the island in the future. At three different bars in the
village, people gathered to light the miniature hot air balloons and
watch them float to the sky. When the balloon fills with hot air, it
naturally floats up into the sky and the light from the flames shines
James and I lit one for the people which we knew had lost their lives
on the island and wished for good luck in the future. The sky looked
beautiful with the many lanterns floating above us.

In a few days it will be the 100th day since the tsunami and many
Thais will be returning to the island. There will be ceremonies
throughout the day to remember the spirits- all three religions will
be represented; Christian, Muslim and Buddhist. In the meantime we
will continue to work with Hi Phi Phi; who are doing a fantastic job
organising the clear-up and the fundraising.


The last few days days have been quite tough and unnerving- the
tsunami warning on our first night definitely had an impact. The days
seem to be Ok but when the night draws in the fear slowly creeps in.
We’ve had storms and high winds everynight that make the sea rough and
as thewre is not much lighting on the island when its dark it can be
very eerie. Every time a coconut drops or a piece of tin roofing falls
brace ourselves for the worst. Most of the people on the island have
never been to Phi Phi before let alone were anywhere near when the
tsunami hit so its really hard for them to understand our uneasiness
at the simplest sounds. The feeling of being in your bungalow when it
collapses and the next minute drowning is ‘fortunately’ not something
that most people can understand but its just all too real for us.

During the day we’ve thrown ourselves into joining in with clearing up
the island and the progress thats been made just in the week that
we’ve been in here is amazing. When we arrived, the steps to our
bungalow had been totally smashed to pieces by the wave and a few
people had begun repair work. Now they are completely finished and
look great. Also most of the debris from the reservoir has been
cleared by diggers working long into the night and new fences and
painted buildings are appearing everyday. The demolition team have
been destroying the unstable buildings and the piles of rubble are
gradually getting smaller. The beach clean up that needed a low tide
still caused problems so in the end we conducted the clear up under
water. There were hundreds of sand bags that had been washed into the
sea and bits of corrugated iron half burried under the sand.

After a particulary dangerous journey in a longtail boat that kept
crashing onto the sea floor, a bungalow in fire, dodgy electrics, more
talk of earthquakes and another storm we realised that we were doing
ourselves no good by being on the island. We left today.

Both of us feel a little defeated but we just could’t go on. We were
one of the few people on the island who had experienced the earthquake
(even most of the locals didn’t come back) and now its time to move
on. It been a challenging and emotional 3 months trying to come to
terms with what happened and going back to the place where we came so
close to losing our lives was the hardest thing to ever do. I wish I
could stay and help more but ive done all I can.

We’re now in Krabi just dealing with everything. My ankle has swollen
up really badly and hurts a lot so I probably couldn’t have carried on
with all that manual labour anyway! A week of wheel barrows and
bulding is enough for me- Ive developed loads of new muscles. Im just
so glad that there are people on the island doing their best and more
people arrive everyday. Now the island needs tourists. If any one is
in thailand make sure you dont leave with at least visiting Phi Phi
for a day- theres plenty of room for more volunteers and its really
rewarding work.

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