Gamble and Thompson Families Survive the Tsunami


The tsunami was a natural disaster on a massive scale.  This is not a news report.  CNN, BBC and other services have excellent coverage of the tsunami as a news story and its effect on people and places.  For an excellent graphic outline of the tsunami's cause, see this BBC page and graphic.  (All hyperlinks were valid when this account was published in January 2005; they will be archived or removed by their owners, so they may not be available with the passing of time.) 

This is an outline of the events as they unfolded for two families on vacation in Phuket.  For those who don't know us, Neil and Usa Gamble are parents of Roger (10) and Rex (7).  Trevor and Wi Thompson are parents of Daniel (11), Dylan (9) and Alissa (7).  All our children go to Ruamrudee International School in Bangkok.

Before we start we need to say that we were very fortunate in coming through this.  We came through alive and largely unscathed; there are no RIP signs on this page.  That is a lot more than can be said for so many others.  Like most of you, we have extended help to people who have lost everything in so many countries.  And having worked in Aceh, Indonesia, for 9 months in the 1980s, Neil feels particularly bad for everyone affected in that highly troubled province.

In the conclusion to our (Gamble Family) annual letter we said: "At the end of the year we plan to spend a few days in Phuket with some family friends.  We were hoping to go to Krabi but it was booked out.  Instead we found a smaller hotel in Phuket and got plane reservations for the days we want to travel.  So Christmas Day will be spent in Phuket, not in Bangkok, leaving the unanswered question of whether Santa Claus will find us there … "


The hotel we found - looking from the beach

© In On The Beach


Looking towards the beach

© In On The Beach


The entire event was like the latest Hollywood blockbuster.  Our heroes, the unassuming Gamble and Thompson families, left on a holiday heading for an idyllic tropical hideaway staying at the only hotel on Karon Beach in Phuket, Thailand, which is just around the southern knoll from Patong Beach; where Patong Beach is the center of Phuket’s tourism boom, Karon Beach is quieter and less commercial.  Little did we know that events were brewing that would put us in the crosshairs of the biggest natural disaster of our time.



























© Phuket Hotel Travel


December 26 started like any other day.  The Gambles and the Thompsons got along to breakfast in the restaurant next to the hotel at around 0915-0930 hrs.  Everything seemed normal.  All the children except Roger finished breakfast quickly and asked to go to the hotel pool, which they did around 0945 hrs.  Trevor was having breakfast but Wi stayed in the room as she felt she'd been eating enough and didn't need breakfast that day.  [After all, we did have a "traditional" Mexican buffet Christmas dinner the night before.]

As the adults were about to leave the restaurant we noticed a "stirring" around us.  People were looking at the ocean; we joined the group, wondering what was going on.  It was the strangest thing.  The water level was rising rapidly, like a tide coming in very fast.  Instinct said it would stop; the waves would break, the water would extend another few feet and recede; but this tide kept on coming.  In a few minutes the rising water knocked over the deck chairs and beach umbrellas laid out 20-30 meters beyond the normal tide mark.  How odd.  But all of life’s experience said it would stop.  Within a minute the water breached the section of beach beyond the deck chairs and spilled onto the sandy road that separated the beach from the hotel / restaurant.  The water was rising fast.  At the moment it lapped over the stairs of the restaurant a woman about 10 feet away screamed for help because she had lost her footing from the power of the water.  Hold on, the water wasn’t stopping; it was rising, and rising fast; a few seconds later the water was one meter deep inside the restaurant. 


Within seconds the swirling sea water rages into the restaurant

Photo by Neil Gamble using Canon Ixus 400


Instincts to protect family and self-preservation took over …


Neil’s Story

Neil watched the approaching torrent from the stairs of the restaurant.  When the water entered the restaurant he moved to the side and the back, towards an open air corridor between the restaurant and the hotel.  He faced the water and took one photograph (above) before gripping the railing for support, thus submerging the digital camera, rendering it useless.  The torrent of water pushed him back about 25 meters, past an small open section that led to the hotel pool and past his hotel room.  The water pushed him to a railing at the back of the hotel that acted as demarcation between the hotel and a footpath; behind that was a storm water channel.  At this stage the water was strong, but not strong enough to push over the iron railing fence, so for better or for worse he was stuck there.  Thankfully no large objects were swept by the torrent into him or the railing at that time.  Most of the force of the water was on the other side of the hotel (the exterior of the hotel) where each room had sliding glass doors.  The force of the water was so strong on that side of the hotel that down its length the plate glass doors exploded one by one.   Crash. Bam. Boom. Crash; they blew out in sequence.  Neil had no real damage and early on in the ordeal was able to see Rex on a staircase leading from the pool to the second floor of the hotel, so he knew that Rex, at least, was safe.  But where were Usa and Roger?


Rex’s Story

Rex was in the pool playing with the Thompson children when Daniel said: "Hey, look at that.  That’s strange.  The water is coming in from the beach."  Fortunately the pool is very close to steps that lead to the 2nd floor of the hotel, so Dylan, Alissa and Rex were able to get out of the pool and up the stairs.  Rex was last to get up the stairs and was partly swept away by the water.  Luckily he was able to grab hold of a tree trunk and then get onto the stairs out of harm's way.  Neil, being trapped by the water at back railing, saw Rex on the staircase and encouraged him to go all the way up to the 2nd floor – to join the others in safety.  But what happened to Daniel?


Roger's Story

Roger had been pushed into the restaurant kitchen and was ostensibly safe and out of harm's way.  But this side of the hotel / restaurant was open to the full force of the water and it was rising fast.  Water was exploding through the door and into the kitchen.  Roger can swim but with this raging, swirling torrent of water he didn't stand a chance and felt he was a goner – he would drown for sure.  Lady luck managed to visit, though.  The force of the water was strong and debris was swirling everywhere.  This water could pick up anything and toss it around (more on that later) and some big, heavy objects (like a commercial drink refrigerator) partially blocked the door, minimizing the water that could enter the kitchen.  The room filled with a lot of water, but not completely – there was still air to breathe and the water receded before room filled completely.  Fortunately by this time he was with Usa.  When the water started to recede a (burly) restaurant employee got the large objects out of the kitchen entrance so she and Roger and could escape.  She could see her handbag that had everything in it (wallet, cash, credit cards, national id, drivers license, mobile phone, sunglasses, etc.) stuck in the bar area, but she had to help Roger first and she'd get back to that in a minute …


Usa’s Story

Usa grabbed Roger's hand and told him they needed to go upstairs to the 2nd floor of the restaurant.  Due to the force of the water they couldn't get up the stairs and were pushed further inside the restaurant – in front of the kitchen door.  The force of the water pushed her against the kitchen wall and then she was able to stand up again.  At this time she still had her handbag, but was thinking of Roger and couldn't see him so she threw the handbag on the bar counter.  She was calling out for Roger and was worried he had gone under.  Then she saw the tables and chairs stacked in front of the kitchen door and pulled the top ones away; only then did she see Roger standing inside the kitchen, the water up to his chin calling out for help.  She was relieved that he was at least OK.  She went towards him and told him to crawl up onto a high shelf in the kitchen and helped by pushing him up there.  Then she climbed onto the shelf herself.  [Only metal brackets supported the shelf, so it was lucky that it supported their combined weight.]  The next wave blocked most of the kitchen entrance with a lot of debris (chairs, tables and even a refrigerator) and that fortunately stopped the kitchen from filling entirely with water.  The water then receded.  Through the window she saw Neil in the hotel grounds; she called out to him to ask about Rex and found out he was near Neil and safe.  She also saw that Trevor went from the hotel around the front of the restaurant and up the side to get to Wi, who was still in her hotel room.

Usa climbed down from the shelf and tried to open the door but could not because of all the debris blocking it.  She saw a burly restaurant employee [the guy who cooked eggs for breakfast] and asked him to help clearing the debris, which he did, so they could open the door.  He told them there was a lot of broken glass on the ground and be careful not to cut themselves.  Usa came out from the kitchen and the egg-chef carried Roger out of the kitchen; Roger then went across to the hotel to see Neil.  Usa went up the restaurant stairs and looked out to the ocean.  She heard people yelling that another wave was coming, so called out to the family to relay the news and tell them to get to higher ground; she went up the 2nd floor of the restaurant and heard a very loud noise – like a jet engine – moving towards the building.  Everyone in the family was close, but were they safe?


The Thompson's Story

The children were in the pool, Trevor was in the restaurant and Wi was in the hotel room.  Daniel raised the alarm in the pool and told everyone to get to the stairs and onto to a higher level.  Then he realized his Mom was in the room and went to get her.  Trevor, seeing the water rise and knowing that Wi had no idea of what was coming, headed back to the room to warn her.  Alissa was getting out of the pool but struggling because the raging water had by then come into the pool.  A European boy saw she was struggling and leapt in to help push her out.  What a brave fellow.  (And we are happy to report that he, too, escaped unharmed.)   Alissa was out of the pool near the front of the hotel but still surrounded by raging water, holding onto a bush and being dragged out by receding water.  At that moment Trevor, who had moved to the front of the hotel near the office, saw that Alissa was in trouble but couldn't get to her.  He yelled out to another European fellow close by her and screamed out to grab her.  He did and then Trevor managed to get her and take her and Dylan to the back of the pool and up the stairs to the 2nd floor.

Daniel got into the room to warn his Mom before the water arrived, but they were unable to get out.  The water came up the side of the hotel and burst the plate glass doors one by one.  Wi and Daniel were in the room when this happened and were cut by glass on their foot and lower leg (respectively).  Trevor managed to get them out of the room when the first wave receded.  Their cuts were deep.  After getting them to safety and coming back for the rest of us, Trevor managed to get Wi and Daniel to hospital in Phuket Town (about 2 hours later); Wi needed fifteen stitches in the sole of her foot and Daniel nine in his calf (lower leg); both required the stitches in several layers as the cuts were very deep.


The Second and Third Waves

The first wave had come and gone in about 10 minutes.  The second wave was stronger and higher than the first.  But for the second wave we knew what was happening.  The Thompson children and Rex were on the 2nd floor and we were pretty sure they were safe.  We still didn't know what had happened to Wi and Daniel and we couldn't get the hotel room door open to see.  When the second wave came Dylan yelled out to Neil that his Mom was still in the room and she needed to get out.  Neil banged on the door three times but there was no answer; with the water rapidly approaching up the hotel corridor he had to say that they must not be in there because there was no response.  (By then they had left the room, but we couldn't confirm at the time.)  Then Neil ran across to the stairs to get to the 2nd level himself.

The second and third waves were a bit of a blur because there was so much happening with movement from one place to another, relief that in a life and death situation we could account for the Gambles but concern we couldn't do the same for the Thompsons.  Also, the water didn't recede between the second and third wave as it did between the first and the second, so the difference between the two was less clear.  But by this time the water was high and surging forward.  We saw cars and trucks thrown around like matchbox toys.  We had rented a Toyota 4 wheel drive (SUV) from the hotel manager; it was parked in front of the hotel and ended up in the lake next to the hotel (with about 20 other vehicles).  The hotel owner's Mercedes S320 was wedged between two trees at the footpath behind the hotel, only the trees stopping it from being swept into a storm water channel.  Marble & concrete poolside tables were swept around the hotel and deposited willy-nilly; one ended up inside the Gamble's hotel room wedged up next to a clothes cupboard, preventing the door from being opened when we needed to retrieve things later.  A brick retaining wall with smooth concrete about ½" thick along both sides was crumbled up like paper and deposited outside the hotel rooms. 

On the hotel's ground level there was an open corridor of perhaps 1 meter between the restaurant and the hotel; on the 2nd floor the buildings were adjacent to one another but separated by a lattice fence made of wood that was about ½" wide and 6" apart.  Usa was on the restaurant side of this fence and thought she saw smoke coming from a hotel room.  She was also worried that the 2nd floor of the hotel building wouldn't be high enough with another surge of water coming and knew that the restaurant building was higher.  So she decided to break the wooden lattice screen between the two buildings.  She and a restaurant staff member [the waitress] together ripped a hole in the wooden screen - big enough for everyone to climb through.  (Sweet and petite Usa is no shrinking violet in a life-threatening situation.)  The children [Roger, Rex, Dylan and Alissa] came first, followed by Neil and then some other families.  We went up to the roof of the restaurant, which already had some people, and surveyed the scene from that position.  At this point we didn't know what had happened to Wi or Trevor, nor did we know the whereabouts of Daniel. 

After a while on the roof we saw Trevor on the footpath behind the hotel, telling us that he had managed to get Wi and Daniel out of the room after the first wave and had moved them to safety.  They had been cut by glass but they were safe; he'd taken them behind the lake to a road that went up a steep hill.  At this time we were all so relieved that our families were safe and well, particularly having just seen Roger nearly drown and Wi & Daniel cut by glass, but not with life-threatening injuries.  Trevor was also worried that the foundation of the restaurant building might not be strong enough to withstand the pounding of the waves and instructed us to come down and join him, Wi & Daniel on the hillside road, which provided ample safety.  We all left the restaurant building and walked with bare feet, except Neil who had one sandal left, to the hillside road behind the lake.  Usa grabbed a hotel bed sheet and few bottles of water and we followed the footpath, across a bridge that was just above the raging water in the storm water drain, onto the footpath that surrounded the lake and finally out onto the road where we could get onto the hillside road to safety.


We walked to safety around the lake (from Tony's restaurant) to a road near the Phuket Ocean Resort

© Phuket Maps





This map shows the area in more detail

© In On The Beach

By the time we recovered from the panic and mayhem – maybe around 1100-1130 hrs – Trevor knew he needed to get Wi and Daniel to a hospital, so he flagged down a passing vehicle and took them away.  Usa and Neil looked after Roger, Rex, Dylan and Alissa. 

It was three hours before we saw any kind of response from officialdom.  There was a helicopter (commercial, not military markings) that flew over the beach apparently surveying the damage and some time after that the police made a cameo appearance.  Perhaps they were busy at worse hit places, like Patong.  It wasn't until the next day that there was any kind of rescue team, police, or military presence in Karon.  Throughout the day there was significant cooperation and camaraderie from the people who experienced the disaster.  Within 30 minutes of going up the hillside road a Thai national who lives in Karon drove past and gave us a 12 pack of bottled drinking water.  After that there was no assistance until around 1600 hrs.  But everyone on the hill was a friend that day. 


Was it a wave or a swell?

Some of the videos we have seen on TV show a clear wave.  We saw the wave as it was coming into shore and it broke on the beach but much higher than a normal wave - around the top of the beach.  From that point onwards it was more like a rapidly rising tide; there were waves after the initial onslaught of the water, but it was like the tide coming in – really fast!

We have learned since that there is no universal truth in waves and their size, which is borne out by so many different accounts of events around the region.  Unlike a surface wave, a tsunami wave travels all the way from the ocean floor to the surface and the size of the resulting wave, when it breaks on shore, depends on the incline of the sand approaching the shore; a shallow beach has a small wave and a steeply angled beach has a large wave.  At Karon we had a shallow beach so the water rose rapidly but we didn’t have big waves; conversely, the water had a lot of horizontal power and moved very fast laterally.

How Big Was It?

It's hard to say how big the wave (or the swell) was.  We estimate that for the sea to get from its normal high tide to the point it would break the bank of the beach was about 5-6 feet; to get into the restaurant would be another 1-1½ feet and the photo shows that the initial water rose to 3 feet in the restaurant within about 15 seconds of breaching the steps.  We have photos of the destroyed ground floor hotel rooms taken the following day that have debris marks around 5 feet off the floor (see photo gallery below).  So adding these together we estimate that the water rose about 10-12 feet.

As it turned out, we were lucky.  Karon beach backs onto a high hill; next to the hotel is a man-made lake and behind the hotel there are two storm water drains (one to feed the lake, the other a true storm water drain).  Patong beach is flat for long distances, which is why the destruction there was much worse.  In Patong the water had no natural barrier to prevent it spreading, so the water just spread inland, bringing destruction with it.  People who went into Patong two days later said that it looked like a war zone, that there was massive damage to shops and offices; and worse, we know there were many bodies taken off the beach.  In Karon beach, as scary as the experience was for us, we enjoyed a significant amount of good fortune from the contour of the land.

The Earthquake

We now know that the tsunami was caused by an earthquake off the coast of Aceh (northern tip of Sumatra) at 0800 hrs Indonesia and Thailand time.  In Phuket some people reported that they felt the tremors and some didn't.  Certainly no-one in the Gamble family felt a tremor.  We have heard since that some people in Bangkok reported seeing water agitate in their bath or fishpond at 0800 hrs and that they thought it was unusual.

© Telegraph [UK]

Initial reports said that the earthquake was an isolated event and happened without warning.  With hindsight, we don't completely subscribe to that theory.  When we returned to Bangkok friends in Australia told us of an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale off the coasts of Tasmania and New Zealand early on Christmas Eve.  That is unusual because Australia rarely has earthquakes.  Some more research showed us that the fault line for the 9.0 quake is the same tectonic plate as the December 26 quake off Sumatra.  So Mother Nature did warn us, but the science of earthquakes is such that locations, times and strength can't be predicted.


Water Receding Prior to the Tsunami

We also heard that water receded prior to the tsunami – that this is, in fact, a feature of a tsunami.  We understand this happened at 0930 hrs.  Even though we were getting to the restaurant for breakfast around that time we didn't notice anything about the water level.  It would be fair to say that we weren't exactly looking, either.  Neil saw a home video from a Swedish group in the evening that demonstrated the receding of the water.  They had taken a boat tour to a nearby island and the water simply disappeared from under their boat.  The video shows the boatmen and visitors outside of the boat with the boatmen scratching their heads – they had simply never seen anything like it.  There were fish flapping on the open sand.  Then the tsunami came. The Swedish group had a harrowing day, getting to the Phuket coast and hiking through the jungle to safety, but fortunately everyone was OK.

The gent who made the video – Peter Strőmvall – said he would make a copy and send it to us on a CD.  It'll sure make interesting viewing.

The First Retrieval Foray

On the hill there were all kind of crazy rumors; the best one was that another wave was coming that was 100' high.  This giant wave was supposed to hit at 1200 hrs; then it was going to be at 1400hrs; then at 1600 hrs; then it was to be that night.  Hhhmmmm … if a 9.0 earthquake produced a 10-12' wave on our beach, then a 100' wave would be caused by a – 12.5 earthquake?  Oh well, people believe what they want. 

Not believing the stories, Neil ventured down to the hotel at around 1300 hrs to see what could be recovered.  The picture was one of total devastation - the ground floor room(s) were trashed.  We (the Gambles) had two things that were in decent shape.  One Delsey suitcase was closed (but not locked) and the contents of that bag were in pretty good shape.  Neil's briefcase was on a high shelf – higher than the water mark and its contents were untouched.  Fortunately the briefcase was only half unpacked, so the PDA was OK, but the laptop that was out on a table was trashed.  Passports for all the boys (that includes Neil) were in the briefcase so they were safe; but for the most part all of our electronics were either 1) washed away; 2) rendered useless by the sea water; or 3) stolen by looters later in the day.  (Apparently looters value electronics that have been rendered useless by sea water.)

Neil managed to get these bags back to the hillside with the help of a kind fellow named Ray who owns the Irish Pub in the main Karon Road.  These bags were not easy to deal with – they were full of waterlogged clothes and very heavy.  Anyone who reads this and visits Karon Beach would do well to go to that pub and have a drink – karmic repayment to Ray for his kindness that day.

The Second Retrieval Foray

Later again Neil went back to get a suitcase that had been open and was washed by the water into the bathroom.  Every piece of clothing in this bag had been inundated with water, sand and debris.  He also found another smaller bag we used as a carry on for the airline and stuffed that full of clothes that had been on hangers, but had fallen on the ground.  These two bags weighed a ton!  Getting them out of the hotel, through the debris and around the lake was extremely difficult.  It was movement by baby steps.  And no Ray to help this time.

After returning from the hospital Trevor went straight to the hotel to search for possessions.  Amazingly, he came out with 2 suitcases and a smaller bag packed full of clothes.  One suitcase - a Samsonite Oyster - was closed and all the contents came out unscathed - not a drop of water on them.  [That's right folks, we found that the Samsonite Oyster & the Delsey equivalent sealed suitcases are tsunami-proof.]  But, like the Gambles, most other clothing was unpacked & badly affected by sea water, sand & debris.  He put everything he could find into the suitcases and brought them - unassisted - across to our safe haven.  He said it was a lot of effort and a lot of baby steps, but he managed.

On one of the trips down the hillside road Neil went to a hotel and asked about getting a room.  They said there were lots of people expected to arrive that day who obviously couldn't make it, so, yes, they had rooms available.  One problem solved.

Clothing Aftermath

Later than night, after dinner and getting Roger and Rex to bed, Usa decided she had to do something about the clothes we salvaged or they would be damaged beyond repair.  So she took each piece of clothing and first rinsed, then washed each piece, all done in the hotel bathroom sink and then gave them one by one to Neil to put out on the balcony to dry.  This exercise started at 2230 hrs and finished at 0330 hrs with clothes piled four deep on the balcony.  It was exhausting, but you probably realize that Usa is a very determined person.


Going back to the Gambles' 2004 annual letter we were wondering whether or not Santa would find us in Phuket.  We should never have doubted him because he came through in style.  He delivered original Region 1 DVDs from the US to all of us (even Usa and Neil).  Roger received Harry Potter 3 and Aladdin.  Rex received Bionicle 2 and Shrek 2.  Amazingly, for the most part, these survived the tsunami.  They were placed in a confined shelf so it was difficult for the water to sweep them away, but the DVD cases and packaging were badly affected by sand and sea water.  The DVDs themselves seem fine.  Unfortunately, we were in the middle of watching one disc the night before the tsunami and it was still inside the DVD player that was swept away.  So that one is gone and will need to be replaced. 

The Following Days

The Gambles Leaving Phuket

The Gambles left Phuket in the afternoon of December 28 – using our original airline reservations.  In the intervening days we managed to get the clothes we found into good enough shape to pack and travel (dry and without significant odor).  We went back to the hotel several times to retrieve as much as we could.  Each time Usa asked Neil to check for her handbag, which she threw into the restaurant bar area, but there really as no hope of getting it.  If the water could move cars and refrigerators, what hope could there be for a lady's handbag?  Still, every trip brought the same request – "Look for my handbag, it has to be there".  With everything inside – Thai national id card, drivers license, ATM cards, credit cards, mobile phone, sunglasses, etc – you can understand she didn't want to lose it.  Neil complied by looking, but it was a hopeless case.

One hour before we left for the airport, Neil asked Roger and Rex if they wanted to go and see what the hotel looked like.  They were interested to see for themselves, so we walked across and Usa joined us.  As the boys were inspecting the damage and Roger & Rex were awed by the scene, Usa went to the restaurant and asked the workers about her handbag.  Amazingly, they had found it!  She did lose her mobile phone and sunglasses, but all the important documents were intact.

The Thompsons Leaving Phuket

The Thompsons were in a different position.  Wi and Daniel were both hospitalized in Phuket Town – far away from the beaches.  This was deliberate, as Trevor wanted to get them to a hospital that he knew was in a safe location.  To minimize family disruption the remainder of the Thompson family camped in the hospital for the duration.  Trevor's first business on the following morning was to get clothes; everyone only had the clothes on their backs and the remainder were waterlogged.  He went to a Tesco-Lotus superstore (similar in size to a Wal-Mart) and describes himself walking around in hospital gear buying new clothes; he really felt the shoppers were worried that he'd escaped from a local institution.  The next order of business was to get the tsunami-affected clothes cleaned.  He found a laundry close to the hospital that washed clothes for Baht 5 (US$0.125) per item.  Rumor has it that this laundry was the only business in Phuket that made money in the next few days, Trevor accounting for much of it.

With Wi and Daniel recovering, the Thompsons wanted to leave earlier than their original December 30 bookings.  But they had a problem - they'd lost their tickets.  [The Gambles were lucky, they had e-tickets.]  Owing to the rush of people wanting to leave Phuket, it took 2 days for Trevor to get hold of his airline and when he did he was told they couldn't go on regular flights – there would be special flights for people who lost tickets.  In the coming days he tried everywhere – Thai Airways and all the no-frills carriers that have sprung up in Thailand but the answer was the same everywhere; there were no tickets to buy because everything was booked and only special flights would be available for travelers who had lost tickets.  So while the Gambles left on December 28, the Thompsons could not.  They wanted to go to the airport to be on stand-by status, but the airlines highly discouraged them, saying that all seats were sold, waitlists were closed and the chances of getting a standby ticket were very low.  Given that there are 5 in the family, with 2 of them injured and Wi really hobbling, they decided not to try for stand-by.  It turned out, after a lot of discussions, that they returned to Bangkok in the evening of December 29, thus bringing an end to a "memorable" experience.  They had spent the whole period from December 26-29 in the hospital.

The Hospital

We need to reserve a special mention for the situation in the hospital.  Wi and Daniel waited for around 5 hours before receiving treatment; frustrating, but understandable given there were so many people badly hurt and in dire need of help.  The hospital lobby was full of people – injured or their friends / family.  Bulletin boards had been setup with messages and photos of injured and missing people.   There are three major hospitals in Phuket, so families who were separated had to search in multiple locations to find their kin.  

There were harrowing tales from every corner of the hospital in the following days.  Everything you have read about husbands losing wives, wives losing husbands, parents losing children and children losing parents is tragically true and it was a gut-wrenching, horrible experience to be exposed to it.  To go through that experience must be unimaginably horrific.  There were stories everywhere of heartbreak, of heroism and every now and again a vision of joyous reunion.  

Early in the first day at the hospital Trevor came across an injured JW Marriott employee who said the hotel received about 10 minutes warning of the approaching tsunami.  She had personally gone down to the beach to warn visitors that they needed to evacuate.  She was injured herself and in the hospital as a patient but was also in shock because no-one took her seriously, the result being many injuries to incredulous hotel guests.  She was blaming herself for people not moving away from the beach.  


Photo Gallery

(photos by Trevor Thompson; all photos taken with a disposable camera)

Click on an image to see a larger picture

Our rooms after the devastation - on ground level

(Thompsons on the left, Gambles on the right)


Just beyond the Gamble family hotel room is the restaurant


Debris outside the Thompson family room


You can see the high water mark about 3' below the air conditioner


Devastation outside the hotel


Dylan checks out the damage


20 cars / trucks ended up in the lake

Interested onlookers - but notice the debris in the lake


Photo Gallery

(photos by Neil Gamble; all photos taken with a disposable camera)

Click on an image to see a larger picture

The Gambles moved from the safety of the 2nd floor the day before the Tsunami


Usa's battle scars from saving Roger


The balcony served as an impromptu laundry


The concrete wall mentioned above


Gamble Family Room before


Gamble Family room after


The restaurant; judging by the doors the water was about one meter deep when Neil took the photo (above); that was only about 15 seconds after the water entered the restaurant!


To get to that position, the water moved this truck along the length of the pool without dropping into the pool!


Thompson family room


This truck was parked outside of the restaurant, so it was moved about 50 meters (see the photo before Neil's Story)


Another view inside the hotel room


The wooden lattice fence broken by Usa


24 hours later - paradise once more


We never envisaged a holiday like this.  We are, of course, happy to escape with our lives and most of our possessions.  We were more fortunate than many others.  As indicated in the photo above, the Gambles were originally staying on the 2nd level of the hotel which was untouched by the waves.  We moved down to the ground floor on Christmas Day, the day before the tsunami came ...

Best wishes,

Neil, Usa, Roger and Rex – The Gamble Family in Bangkok

Trevor, Wi, Daniel, Dylan and Alissa - The Thompson Family in Bangkok

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