In the Wake of the Tsunami

March, 2005
Khao Lak, Thailand, December 30, 2004. Bodies are wrapped in white plastic to help prevent the spread of disease. Tracks in the soil are from heavy machinery used to clean up the twisted metal pieces that were once homes. “This particular place was low-lying, and immediately north and south there were storm-water drains going out to sea,” says Gaye Gould. “Clearly the tsunami just took the paths of least resistance and devastated this area.” Photo courtesy of Gaye Gould.

Khao Lak, Thailand, December 30, 2004. Bodies are wrapped in white plastic to help prevent the spread of disease. Tracks in the soil are from heavy machinery used to clean up the twisted metal pieces that were once homes. “This particular place was low-lying, and immediately north and south there were storm-water drains going out to sea,” says Gaye Gould. “Clearly the tsunami just took the paths of least resistance and devastated this area.” Photo courtesy of Gaye Gould.

At 9 a.m. on December 26, PSU Assistant Professor of English Gaye Gould and her son were on a flight bound from New Zealand via Singapore to Phuket, Thailand. Her family owns a home in Phuket in a resort development known as Laguna. As she occupied herself with thoughts of meeting her husband and daughter there for a family holiday, a wall of water of inconceivable force was crashing on the shores of Thailand.

“My flight from Singapore to Phuket was delayed six hours,” says Gould. “Even Thai Airways had little information. CNN reports were saying that ‘Laguna is gone.’ I phoned Laguna and they said they were okay, that Phuket airport was open, and there was no damage to the road into Laguna.”

Gould tried to contact her husband, who was flying to Phuket from Hong Kong, and her daughter flying in from London. “Both their flights left on schedule despite the disaster,” says Gould, “but both were eventually delayed for hours in Bangkok.” Even with delays, she and her husband arrived at Phuket airport within minutes of each other and were able to connect right away. Gould’s daughter, on vacation from her job as a producer for Channel Four News in London, did not arrive in Phuket until the early hours of December 28.

“Flying into Phuket, you couldn’t see the devastation,” explains Gould. “Laguna was protected from heavy damage as the lagoon absorbed much of the sea water.”

On December 30, Gould and her family planned to fly to Hong Kong where she and her husband were to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary on New Year’s Day. Says Gould, “We had checked in for our flight, and cleared emigration, when our daughter received a message from the London office saying that they wanted her to stay in Thailand to cover the disaster.”

After de-emigrating, and retrieving luggage, they drove Gould’s daughter north to Khao Lak where they saw the full extent of the disaster. Gould explains, “Khao Lak was devastated. There were lakes and rivers where there never had been, and people waiting anxiously for victims to be pulled out. Batong beach, just south of Laguna, was also badly hit. The hotel where our daughter stayed with the film crew was one of the few buildings that survived.”

In the two weeks Gould and her family were in Thailand, the clean up was well under way. She explains, “Unlike Sri Lanka and Indonesia, Thailand has heavy equipment to devote to the effort.” But aside from repairing the physical damage, Gould fears the economic healing may take more time. The psychological impact of the tragedy on potential tourists will likely be a barrier to recovery. “Forty percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product comes from tourism,” says Gould. “In Phuket, 50 percent of the casualties were tourists.”—Kathy Henderson ’99


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