- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2004

From combined dispatches

LONDON — Families around the world spent anxious hours yesterday desperate for news of loved ones after giant waves slammed into some of Asia’s most popular resorts at peak season, killing thousands of people.

Throughout the day, telephone lines were jammed and information from the region was patchy about the extent of casualties among Western tourists, though witnesses described vacationers being washed out to sea by the waves.

The region’s balmy temperatures and pristine beaches attract tens of thousands of Britons, Germans, Italians, French, Russians, Israelis and others at this time of year.

“Suddenly this huge wave came, rushing down the beach, destroying everything in its wake,” said Simon Clark, 29, a photographer from London vacationing on the Thai island of Ngai with his girlfriend, Caroline Barton, 25, also of London.

“People that were snorkeling were dragged along the coral and washed up on the beach, and people that were sunbathing got washed into the sea,” Mr. Clark said.

In Phuket, families and friends separated by the waves had tearful reunions after a day of fear that their loved ones had been swept away by the walls of water that slammed into the idyllic resort beaches.

Katri Seppanen, 27, of Helsinki walked around barefoot at the Patong Hospital waiting room where she spent the night with her mother and sister.

“The water went back, back, back, so far away. … Then we saw the wave come, and we ran,” said a tearful Miss Seppanen, who was on the island’s popular Patong beach with her family.

The wave washed over their heads and separated them. They found each other two hours later.

Julie Robertson, 34, of Brisbane, Australia, found her mother, sister and friend this morning and screamed in relief upon seeing them at the Amari Hotel on Patong beach.

“I’m upset, but I’m happy,” Miss Robertson said.

Fifty-eight corpses in swimming suits lay in rows outside the Patong Hospital emergency room.

Greg Miller, 55, of Honolulu, said that when he felt the earthquake from his beachfront guesthouse room, he knew from experience at home to immediately look at the ocean for signs of what was to come.

“I finally got a car and managed to get into the hills. I called my friend and warned him not to come, but he drove down here anyway. His car was swept up by the water into the hills, flipping over four times on the way,” Mr. Miller said of his friend who survived.

The Health Ministry’s disaster center has not issued numbers of foreigners among the victims, but press reports and the Thai Foreign Ministry said that tourists missing, injured or dead include nationals of South Korea, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Hong Kong, Britain, Denmark, Australia, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

The U.S. State Department said one American was killed in Thailand but did not identify the victim.

On Phi Phi Island — where “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed — 200 bungalows at two resorts were swept out to sea, along with some of their staff and customers.

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