Whistler residents Brian and Gay Cluer wondered at the strangely low tide clearly visible outside their Phuket, Thailand condo on Boxing Day.
They thought it so unusual they actually took a minute to take a picture before heading out the door to meet son James and his family elsewhere on the island.
Seconds later they saw the first swell of the giant Tsunami making its way on shore.
"I thought it a bit odd," said Cluer.
"But it was only a swell, so we got into the car and went off… only to find 25 yards down the road there was a whole lot of water on the road and so we could not get out."
Some of the locals told the Cluers to go back to their hillside Kamala Beach Estates condo, which they did. They got back just in time to see the second wave come in.
"It was about 20 feet high, (although) they said it was 35, and going at say water-ski speedboat pace," said Cluer in an e-mail.
"It made a sound like a jet, or an express train, and it levelled the little village of Kamala.
"(I’ve) never seen anything like it, houses and buildings just swept away like they were made of paper; trees uprooted – all but (the) coconut trees, none of which were in the least affected.
"It must have gone inland about one (kilometre), then it came back out with (huge) force. What it missed on the way in, it got on the way out. It was terrifying – we stood aghast in shock and horror as we saw the town actually flattened. People (were) screaming and dying…"
The tsunami, which is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 155,000 people in South Asia, turned the Cluer’s second floor condo into waterfront property. The beach, the grass, the ocean front condos were annihilated.
"The (condos) on the sea front right under us were utterly devastated; interior walls ripped out, beds flung 50 feet away, fridges up the trees," said Cluer.
"No one inside would have survived, luckily all the people who were in the lower ones were at the pool.
"Tsunamis are not like… the Hawaiian surfing waves one sees on TV (as I had thought), they are like a wall of foaming water, they do not break, they just rush in like battering rams."
The management of the condo unit escorted everyone to higher ground where they stayed until mid afternoon. When the waters receded the Cluer’s left their condo, now without water and power, and went to stay with their son who lived inland in an area unaffected by the tsunami.
Before returning to Whistler the Cluers drove to a few of their favourite Phuket stops. They were amazed to find that some beaches, ones with deep water, suffered hardly any damage. Other places such as Patong, Kata, Karon and Rawaii – all places the Cluers had stayed at over the years – were devastated.
The counting of the dead may be coming to an end. But counting the cost of the tsunami will take years. Cluer is urging as many people as possible to give whatever money they can afford to help out the relief effort.
"I love Thailand, I love the people and if there is anyway people can be persuaded to part with their money to help others the time to do it is now," he said.
The Cluers were not the only Sea to Sky residents directly affected by the Tsunami. Toni Drewes, the mother of Whistler resident Oriel Morrison, was still missing at press time. Her friends are organizing a fundraiser at Uli’s Flipside on Tuesday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m.
Sherry Lundholm of Britannia Beach was travelling in Sri Lanka with a friend when the tidal wave struck. She shared her experiences with her daughter by e-mail, who shared them with The Province newspaper.
Lundholm and her friend reportedly fled their condo when a French tourist yelled at them to run, and were swept inland by the wave. Her friend managed to grab onto a tree and climb out of the water as the wave washed back out to sea. Lundholm, 64, couldn’t hold on, and was washed backwards into a house where she was tumbled around in the water with the furniture. A 10-year-old boy spotted her and climbed down from the roof to give her a hand. He wasn’t strong enough to pull her onto the roof but he helped to guide her onto the roof, where she then helped as many people as she could, including several crippled residents and an elderly lady.
Stunned by the aftermath, she said she would like to buy a new fishing boat, three-wheeled taxi and treadle sewing machine for those who helped her out. All of her luggage was washed away.
Lundholm is still in Sri Lanka, and is hoping to fly out on Jan. 17.