Eye witness reports: 'Death came from the sea. The waves kept chasing us'

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The Independent Online

"I was overseeing the repairing of nets when I noticed the sea changing - the waters rising, then falling. I knew something was wrong and I started to run. There was a terrible roaring sound and suddenly the water surrounded me. I clung on, first to a doorway and then a roof after the doorway and its house was swept away.



Shanjeev Raj, 34, fishing boat owner, near Kollam, on the Karunagapally coast, India

"I was overseeing the repairing of nets when I noticed the sea changing - the waters rising, then falling. I knew something was wrong and I started to run. There was a terrible roaring sound and suddenly the water surrounded me. I clung on, first to a doorway and then a roof after the doorway and its house was swept away.

"My family were 100m away from where I swam to but I could not reach them. Boats were being crushed by vehicles on the main road. Our livelihood was disappearing and the sea was trying to kill us.

"After the water subsided I made it to my home. It was destroyed and the neighbours told me my mother and two of my children had drowned. I'm still looking for my father.

"We know the sea can be destructive. But this was different. It was a normal day and then suddenly everything was being turned upside down by this great force.

"I feel as if my life is over. There is not enough wood to cremate the bodies. There is no privacy. I'm told my children will have to be buried in a communal grave, in a pit. Then a bulldozer will cover them over with sand."

Candida Mostyn-Owen, from Oswestry, Shropshire, on holiday in the Maldives with her husband, Owen, and their three children.

"It was 11.30am and we had gone a small island away from our resort. Suddenly, the sea just disappeared, as if it had been sucked away. We could see the coral and fish flapping around on the bare surface. The current was incredibly strong. We had to fight to get back to the shore. Then a huge wave appeared. We found ourselves clinging to the trees on this island. And they continued coming. One, two, three, four, five tremendous waves at a time. We had to tie the children to the trees to ensure they weren't swept away.

"There was always a lull and then this series of huge waves - my husband is 6ft tall and they overwhelmed him. A man eventually came in a boat to rescue us. He motioned that we should stay in the trees and before we knew it his boat had been picked up and smashed apart on the coral. He was swept out to sea.

"In the end we were rescued by a fisherman. We spent six hours clinging to the trees. We were just so relieved to be alive. If it had not been for those trees, we would not be here."

Nazarudin, 40, a villager from Aceh province in Indonesia, who was in hospital with a badly injured foot and cuts to his face.

"I was outside my house, people were screaming 'big waves, big waves,' then I was carried off. I managed to hold on to a tree. But my wife is gone. She is missing."

Rajali, 55, a farmer in Lhokseumawe, Aceh province, where the tsunami devastated his village, was trying to bury his family in accordance with Islamic tradition.

"My wife and two children were killed. I cannot find dry ground to bury them. What shall I do? I don't know where to bury my wife and children."

William Robins, 26, a professional golfer from California, and his new wife, Amanda. The couple were honeymooning on Phi Phi island in Thailand, made famous by the movie, "The Beach". Mr Robins suffered a broken collarbone and partially severed ear. His wife, 27, broke her pelvis.

"We saw a whole a bunch of people screaming and jumping off boats. We thought it was a terrorist bomb, so we jumped over a hotel fence and hid in a storage room. We held hands and crouched in the corner. Then we heard a rumbling explosion that didn't end. The room exploded and a concrete wall collapsed. We were pushed through two layers of concrete and forced to let go of each other's hands.

"We were pulled underwater and suddenly came to the surface. We were about 150 yards out to sea, surrounded by debris and the smell of petrol.

"Then we saw a hotel employee in a boat, looking for his family. We were screaming. We said if we don't get on this boat, we're dead."

Rosita Wan, 30, of Penang Island, Malaysia, who was watching her son Mohamad swimming at the shore when the tsunami struck.

"I could only watch helplessly while I heard my son screaming for help. Then he was underwater and I never saw him again."

V Govidan, 55, a fishmonger in Madras, India.

"My house was blown half a kilometre inland when the waves came. I started running with my wife and four children.

"I returned to the coast in the evening and saw my home had been washed away. The signboard is still there - my business was named after my daughter, Sandhya. Now life is so uncertain."

Lak Pongsanthia, 27, hotel worker at Karon Beach resort, Phuket, Thailand.

"Many people thought it was a terrorist attack. Their instinct was to hide, to get behind walls and into basements. For them, it was the worst place to be.

"The waves were so strong the broke walls and, of course, they flooded anything below ground level. One of my colleagues saw tourists being swept back out to sea, he tried to get them on to his boat. They had broken bones, they were screaming for help.

"One Australian couple were on their honeymoon. I saw them on their balcony at breakfast and, after the waves, the husband was walking around asking if anyone had seen his wife. He didn't know where he was. Didn't know his home address. We found his wife and they were taken to hospital. It was lucky for them. But others will not be so lucky. The bodies won't be delivered back by the sea for days, perhaps never."

Baroness Falkner of Margravine, Liberal Democrat peer, arrived in Phuket for a holiday on Christmas Day with her husband, Robert, and daughter, Sophia.

"It was a special holiday to celebrate my in-laws' birthdays. Our apartment was less than 30ft from the beach.

"On Boxing Day morning, my seven-year-old daughter asked if she could go and paddle - the sea was at the end of the garden. Shortly afterwards, we noticed that the tide had become extremely low.

"We asked our neighbours if this was normal and they said no. Then the water came back up the beach and into the garden. We got my daughter back out of the water and headed for higher ground. The next waves smashed the glass of the doors to our apartment. We could hear it breaking as we climbed upwards. My first reaction was one of 'There but for the grace of God go I'.

"But my abiding sense is that it felt surreal, watching as this tide swept over the landscape."

Pascale Panuel, a French woman living in Tokyo, who had been on holiday in the Thai resort of Phi Phi.

"It was like a scene from the apocalypse or something. There was litter everywhere - motorcycles, cars and dead bodies. I saw many dead babies all lying on the beach."

Satya Kumari, construction worker living in Pondicherry on India's east coast.

"Death came from the sea. The waves just kept chasing us. It swept away all our huts. What did we do to deserve this?"

Pam Wall, 31, teacher, from Reading, Berkshire, returned yesterday from Sri Lanka.

"The water first of all flooded into the hotel swimming pool and then into the foyer. We decided to move upwards and reached the third floor. Then a 30ft wave hit the hotel. People were in total panic. It just came in within about a minute and a half. People were running and screaming. It was really freaky.

"We'd been taking photographs of the wave as it approached, not realising just how much force it would bring and what devastation. We thought everything was fine.

"Then one of the waiter's yelled, this is The Day After Tomorrow. He was referring to a Hollywood disaster movie."

Anjalakshi Rajani, a mother of two children, from Thazhanguda in Tamil Nadu, India.

"My husband and son went out to sea to fish on Sunday morning and have yet to return. My daughter is still missing. My house is full of water and there is no one to help me. I have nowhere to go. Why did I survive this?"

Daniel Thebault, from east Jersey, had been on holiday in south-east Sri Lanka.

"We were having a late breakfast in our hotel, about 50 yards from the beach, when people sitting near the windows started shouting.

"We heard a roaring noise and could see ripples of frothy water bubbling up fast from the beach. Two or three minutes later, the waves smashed into the hotel, breaking the windows and hitting the tables.

"Then, all of a sudden, the bay emptied of water and the sea started charging ahead again. For the next two or three hours we were hit by massive waves every 45 minutes or so.

"It knocked the hell out of the hotel, which was shuddering, smashing everything on the ground floor to bits.

"Great swaths of the beach are completely washed away and the coconut palms are five or six feet underwater."

Colonel Buyung Lelana, officer leading the evacuation in Aceh province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

"It smells so bad. The human bodies are mixed in with dead animals like dogs, fish, cats and goats."

Lili Marfani, from Manchester, on holiday with her family in Penang, Malaysia.

"We were eating in a restaurant on reclaimed land. To us it looked like a rough sea at first, which was strange because it was as flat as a millpond when we arrived.

"When the first wave hit the sea wall, the water came in very quickly. It was thick, grey, with filthy mud. Fishing boats were overturned further out.

"We started to leave the restaurant. The second wave came very fast and, within seconds, we were waist deep in this horrible grey mud.

"We lost two children when they were completely submerged. We only found them by desperately fumbling in the thick mud. Our passage was blocked by falling kitchen equipment and vehicles that had been washed away.

"When we eventually reached a village, people were walking around lost and bewildered. Some were clasping their hands as if to welcome some calamity."

Duncan Ridgeley, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, arrived with his family in Sri Lanka on Christmas Day.

"It was horrible. The waves came from nowhere and swept away every hotel by the beach. I got pulled under and I hung on to a fridge and then a nail got stuck in my foot but I managed to get hold of my son's hand and reach safety.

"We were stuck there with water all around us, with crocodiles and the like surrounding us. We arrived here on Christmas Day because we wanted to get away to somewhere peaceful."

Joanne Smith, a Briton travelling through south-east Sri Lanka.

"We came to a village at about 9.30am and there was a child crying. Within a split second, between all the houses, this water came gushing up the road and our driver sort of panicked and said, 'oh my God' and hit the accelerator, and drove through the water. I could see this huge 10ft wave coming over the road.

"The driver pulled over to the side of the road and told us to get out of the car and then we climbed on to the bonnet and then on to a wall. The car was floating.

"There was panic and people were screaming everywhere and things floating by. It was a very, very frightening experience. The water very slowly started to go down and then it went away.

"We climbed down off the wall. There were just boats in the middle of the road and the fishermen were missing."

Jason Richards, from Croydon, south London, on a diving holiday in Koh Ngai, Phuket, Thailand

"We watched the wave coming. It was horrible - the suction of the current drew the water right back, people who were snorkelling in six feet of water found themselves in the open air or stuck on sharp coral.

"Then they were swept back into the sea by the wave. It was at least 20ft high. I don't think it would have been possible to survive if you had been in the sea. There was just tons and tons of water suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

"We were swept inland and got to high ground. People were being plucked up like toy soldiers. The scenes were horrific - I saw a woman carrying her child, and the next time I saw her, her hands were empty. She was shouting but there was no sound coming out. You couldn't hear her."

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