Devastation: 'I kept thinking about all the ones who died'

Caroline Franklin survived the tsunami by incredible good fortune. Then came the repercussions, and a year in which the experience touched every aspect of her life
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The Independent Online

I had lost my job as head of research for a career consultancy and I decided to travel around the world for a year. I needed time to think about what I wanted to do next. I'd just done a Masters so I wanted some time out from the rat race.

Peter, then my partner, and I had been in Thailand for three weeks when I collapsed with a burst ulcer. My consultant said I was in no fit state to travel to Cambodia or Vietnam, where we had planned to go next, and recommended that I went somewhere to relax for three weeks until I got better. I opened a magazine in the hospital and found this remote island called Koh Prathong.

We had Christmas there and when I woke up on Boxing Day I could hear the windows shaking. Some Germans said it was an earthquake. I thought it couldn't possibly be. Then Thais I'd got friendly with said I had to come and see the waves in the water, which was usually flat. I was on the beach talking to John, the resort's owner, and suddenly Peter started screaming at me at the top of his voice from one of the bungalows. I said, 'What are you yelling at? I'm just with John and he's showing me around.'

By that time we were in the wave and John was hanging on to me trying to save his life. Unfortunately, he couldn't swim and didn't survive. We hit the buildings and Peter, who was screaming, tried to pull my hand out. Then the whole building collapsed and he disappeared. I couldn't breathe and thought I was being killed.

I woke up about four hours later hanging in a tree. I'd been knocked unconscious and the clasp of my new Missoni orange swimsuit had caught on branches. I'd been badly knocked about and had broken ribs. The wave had passed between two islands next to ours producing a tunnel effect. The force was so great it had ripped all my rings off.

By that time the whole island was destroyed. Waking up and seeing the devastation was horrific. All I could do was scream. There were bodies in the water, including that of a baby. I thought everyone had been killed and I was the only survivor of what I assumed had been a hurricane.

I wasn't that high up from the water and in complete and utter shock I climbed down from the tree. All I knew was that I was going to die. The water had taken me a long way inland and I clung on to a piece of wood. The water was very deep. In the far distance I saw a woman who was very badly injured. I was trying to get to her and she was trying to get to me.

We reached a water tower, which took a couple of hours. There were a few people there and eventually Peter arrived with his ear ripped off. I thought he had died. We could hardly speak to each other we were in such a state of shock. People said another wave was coming so we all had to get away.

There were a few Thais with us who knew the island. It took us about six hours to get to the other side. The water was lower there and we were able to walk. It was getting dark and everyone was getting scared. Then we saw boats out at sea which came and rescued us and took us to the mainland. We were taken to hospital and Peter had an operation on his ear. There weren't any anaesthetics.

A week later we got back to Bangkok. All I had on was a T-shirt given to me by a Thai man who was embarrassed because I was practically naked. I'd given some of the material of my swimsuit to a woman who needed a sling. Peter and I were arguing because of all the stress. Everyone was. It brought out the worst in everybody. He had to stay in hospital for a couple of weeks. We split up because of the shock. I was expecting him to look after me and he couldn't look after himself. Then he didn't want to come travelling anymore. We'd been together for six months.

I went to Australia for a couple of months, but came back to England. I'd lost my dream and I wasn't that well. I had no money either: we'd lost a lot of cash. It was only when I got back that it really hit me. I tried to get a job, but I wasn't in the right state of mind. There was a fire in my house and that set me back and I got depressed.

I've had counselling, which was fantastic. I kept having thoughts of all these people who were killed. It's only a month ago that I got back on my feet and got a job at a business school. I'm proud of myself because I didn't think I'd get one.

Since the disaster, I've noticed how petty people can be. They argue over such stupid things. I'm also much calmer and I realise how lucky I am. I still burst into tears sometimes. I did yesterday when someone brought up the tsunami.

The Thai people did everything to rescue us. They saved our lives and gave us everything. One woman invited me back to her house and gave me money to buy Peter some food while he was in hospital. I will go back. I'd like to teach English or run a school there one day. But I thought I'd better get back on my feet before I did anything for anyone else. A lot of people said, 'You're so lucky; get on with your life'. It's not so easy.


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