Asian Tsunami Heros

Friday, January 21, 2005

The rescuers: tourists who turned into heroes

Ned Kelly, a British police sergeant, was in his hotel room in the Thai resort of Phi Phi when the tsunami hit.
“At 11am I could hear screams and shouting — I saw people running from the beach, then water knocking them over and sweeping them along,” he said.

“Within 15 to 30 seconds water had risen to about 6ft and people were clinging to the shopfronts. The water was full of glass and dead bodies floated by. The injured must have been in so much pain.” Kelly, 38, was typical of the many British holidaymakers who pitched in to save lives and help the injured. He and his friend Nick Ward, 35, both fitness enthusiasts from Stourbridge in the West Midlands, pulled desperate fellow-tourists from the tumultuous waters surrounding their hotel and spent 18 hours caring for the wounded before rescuers arrived.
Kelly said: “After the water had cleared a bit I then went down and found a naked guy staggering around. He was from Manchester and called Andy — he was in a really bad way, cut and bruised all over. Andy had been in a bungalow with his girlfriend and she was washed away through the streets and we never found her.”

After pulling to safety a British woman called Alison, a Turkish man called Ugaz and a Japanese woman and her young daughter, Kelly found time to send a text to his girlfriend saying: “Hit by tidal wave. Loads dead. I’m alive so far.” Kelly and Ward administered first-aid to survivors. Kelly said: “There were dead bodies everywhere. You could say it was callous but we just concentrated on those we could save. People started coming into our room and using it as a medical centre. We used everything we had to care for them. “We gave our clothes and used plastic bags to wrap the wounds — I’ve only done basic first-aid training as part of my job as a police officer.” He and Ward broke into 40 more hotel rooms to make more space for the wounded before Ward went out to search for first-aid equipment. Kelly said that the group also went out onto the street to break into a pharmacy just before 1pm to get medical supplies. He paid tribute to Gill Stewart, an optician from Dollar in Scotland who helped them tend the wounded and evacuate them to the hotel roof, despite losing her husband. “Gill’s husband had been scuba diving when the wave hit and, although she knew he would have been in the sea, she stayed calm and just dealt with casualties,” he said. “I don’t know where the courage came from.”

British and Australian teachers at Dulwich International School in Phuket, the sister school of Dulwich College in southeast London, played a key role in tending to the wounded, comforting them and helping them to establish contact with friends and relatives. The school’s boarding houses were turned into temporary hospitals where about 600 people, mainly western tourists, were offered medical care, counselling and temporary accommodation. David Cook, the school’s head teacher, said: “Forty Thai medical staff came in, and we got the refectory going to feed people and helped to provide transport and clothes. In the sports hall, the wall is covered with photos of missing persons.” Cook said British staff from the school had helped in the rescue and relief effort in other parts of the country. He said: “Members of staff have been helping with the rescue operation in Khao Lak, helping with burials, and those who are trained divers have been helping to search for bodies at the Sofitel, which was very badly damaged.”

Roy Phillips, a 33-year-old fireman from Sutton Coldfield, was shopping in Phuket when he saw that the sea had drawn back and that “beyond that there was a huge wall of water and it was coming straight at me”. “People started running from the beach and and there was absolute panic. I then got caught in the wave and it dragged me along towards the plate-glass window of a shop. The sheer force of the water broke the window and carried me into a shop, where I clattered against the wall. Although I’m a pretty strong swimmer it took all my strength to swim out. “I saw an arm poking out of a shop canopy so I swam over and pulled a Thai girl out. And there was man holding on to a post who wouldn’t let go. I think he was Greek or Italian; he didn’t speak English but I persuaded him to let me help pull him to safety. “Looking for my friends, I had to scramble across a few walls and on the way I met an Englishwoman. She had lost her husband and was really upset. “She gave me a description so I went back along the walls and eventually found him. When I went back and told her I found him the look of complete delight said it all.”


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