German Survivors Recall Tsunami Horror | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.01.2005
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German Survivors Recall Tsunami Horror

More than a week after a deadly tsunami struck Thailand's southwestern beaches, German holidaymakers, who survived the disaster, speak of their harrowing experiences.

Back in Germany but still in shock

Back in Germany but still in shock

For thousands of western holidaymakers on Thailand's Phuket and Khao Lak islands on the southwestern coast, an idyllic holiday turned into a nightmare on Dec. 26, 2004.

The massive tidal waves triggered by an undersea quake in the Indian Ocean reduced the postcard perfect holiday destinations into a scene of death and destruction. Tens of thousands of western tourists, among them an estimated 10,000 German holidaymakers, were swept up in the chaos and devastation.

Many didn't survive. About half of Thailand's estimated 5,000 dead are believed to be foreigners. The German government has confirmed that 60 nationals are dead while the search continues for more than 1,000 missing Germans.

A slow path to normalcy

Flutkatastrophe Erdbeben Pantong Beach Thailand Helfer reinigen die Straßen nach der Flut Seuchengefahr Epedemien

Volunteers help wash away tidal wave debris on Patong Beach, Thailand

More than a week after the disaster, efforts are underway in Thailand to restore a degree of normalcy to its battered tourism industry, the second-biggest source of revenue for the country. Clean-up work is in full swing among the damaged tourist resorts on Thailand's southwestern coastal strip and even bars and discotheques are gradually reopening.

But, for German tourists who survived the harrowing tragedy like Reinhard Janisch, a return to normal life will take time.

Janisch, who is from Oberhausen in Germany's Ruhr region, was caught unawares by the tidal waves while vacationing on the island of Phuket.

"When the wave came from the back, I didn't turn round any more," Janisch said, remembering the full force of the encounter. "I thought a car hit me from the back."

The massive wall of water pushed Janisch on the ground where he was pinned between beach chairs and floating debris.

"I tried to free myself´," he said. "You know, you develop strength somehow. I don't know why. And then I continued on."

Seebeben - Deutscher Tourist im Krankenhaus

German tourist Roland Linz, 36, a survivor at the damaged Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park in Thailand

Miraculously, Janisch managed to escape with just a few cuts and bruises.

"My entire knee is cut up," he said. "But nothing's broken. You know, the doctors were amazed that we got out of there without any broken bones. You don't feel anything at first in the water. You could cut off your arm and you wouldn't notice it."

It was only when he saw the corpses of other vacationers and local people lined up in the hospital that Janisch realized just how lucky he was to be alive.

"Born again, you can say," he said. "I'm afraid and I don't know why. I'm totally wiped out."

A new lease on life

Others suffered the terrible anxiety of not knowing the fate of their loved ones. Monika Sommerfeld from Neuendorf in Saxony-Anhalt lost her family in the flood and only found them again days later. Her son Bastian was torn away by the masses of water.

"All I saw was the water racing towards me," Bastian said. "Then I was up to my neck in it. We let go, crashed into the furniture and a glass pane. The water got higher and higher. Then I was washed through the pane and then through a flat. There was only one window and I had to get out through that."

Seebeben Thailand deutsche Touristen zurück in Frankfurt

German survivors arrive back home at Frankfurt airport

While Bastian and his mother got away with a fright, her husband was badly injured, Monika Sommerfeld said.

"He was pulled along by the wall of water," she said. "And all the debris injured him so badly. Half his arm was ripped off and he has grave knee injuries. The doctor here gave his 'okay' that he should join those being flown out. He's already on his way to Cologne."

But, despite her harrowing experiences, Sommerfeld said she was filled with a strange feeling of gratitude.

"Some nights you wake up and start to cry because you keep seeing these horrible pictures," she said. "But this country (Thailand) can't be blamed. There's nothing it can do about

it. There's no one here you can blame, or say, I'm never going to come here again."

Like Janisch, Sommerfeld said the experience was akin to getting a new lease on life.

"You need peace and quiet first," she said. "We can be glad to be alive. There are worse cases here of people having lost family members. And we can say: we've been reborn."

"The show must go on"

Flutkatastrophe Erdbeben Khao Lak Thailand Elefanten helfen beim Wiederaufbau der zerstörten Infrastruktur

A Thai elephant clears debris near Bang Nieng beach in Khao Lak, Thailand

Many of the tourists said they are also grateful to the Thais. Many reported self-sacrificing help. Some tourists who were only slightly injured said they want to stay for the rest of their holidays and leave as planned.

Reinhard Seelig from Mainz was one of them.

"We do want to go home now, but not so fast," he said. "We don't think it makes any sense to be sitting in the airport for three or four days. We have a nice room here. So I'd rather wait another week or two."

Things appear to have gone back to normal in the numerous bars dotting the beaches. Some tourists even speak of wild parties with which some holidaymakers celebrated their survival.

But not everyone is comfortable with the idea.

"What gets me down is that we were out a bit last night and you know that the corpses are lying nearby -- and people are celebrating and boozing," said one German tourist. "It reminds me of Freddy Mercury's song, 'The show must go on.'"

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