Email tells of escape from waves? wrath

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  • Published 3.01.05

On Christmas eve Kate Salter sent her father an email from Thailand. She was taking a two-week break from her job teaching English in Tokyo. Kate, 24, described her idyllic surroundings unaware of the horror to follow.

?Hello from Thailand. We have been lazing on beaches for five days, though we swapped islands yesterday from Koh Lanta to Koh Jum. I am just happy to be in a place where everyone speaks (some) English and I can lie in, and then swim in a warm sea when I get up. It will be unbelievably hard to go back. Happy Christmas and lots of love. We?ll do a proper Christmas next year, I promise.

Kate xxxxxxxxxxxx?

At 8am on Boxing Day, Mark Salter, Kate?s father, a journalist from Petersfield, Hampshire, was woken by his mobile. He said: ?Bleary-eyed, I see Kate has sent this: ?Dad, there was an earthquake. Indonesia, maybe. Bad tidal wave hit islands here but we are safe. Many dead on near islands. Text back. K?

?I turn on the television and see the breaking news of drama and mayhem, but the full impact is not yet known.

?I send a text to Kate on her friend?s phone. It?s awful, I tell her. Many are dead. Are you OK? Where are you? Silence until 3am on Monday, December 27. Then she sends a text: ?We are still on Koh Jum, near Koh Phi Phi. No fuel, so no boats. Kind villagers, but slightly worrying as we have no priority for rescue and there is not much food. We heard 3,000 dead. Can you tell us the news??

Salter continued: ?Now I am slightly uncomfortable. Her mother, Dessa, is worrying and trying to contact the foreign office helpline which is constantly engaged. They tell us that if we have not had verbal contact with her for 24 hours we are to post her as missing. Now we are scared. What if she is sleeping on beaches ? have they any food and water?

?I send her another message. Sit tight, I say. They know you are there but things are very, very bad. There are 80,000 dead and the figure is soaring. God knows when they can get to you. You have been posted as missing. Then comes the wonderful news: ?Hi Dad. We are heading for Bangkok and then going north. Should I let them know we are safe?? ?As it turns out, they grabbed the first fishing boat to the mainland. It is only when I get Kate?s email that we see what she went through.?

Kate had written: ?Hi mam, sorry if you were up all night worrying. What a terrible catastrophe it is ? unbelievable numbers of casualties. I am most certainly safe now (but) I?m sorry to have worried you. We were on a tiny island in the Andaman sea, Koh Jum (Pu), about six or nine miles long and much narrower. We were staying at a beachfront bungalow and we decided to move to a lovely set of bungalows on stilts much further down the beach. The proprietors, An and Nut, are a lovely couple who have built a beautiful place from scratch, all hammocks and dappled sun and decking with cushions. Well, had built. It?s all gone now. Only our huts, which were on a steep slope, remain. We were having breakfast on the decking about 15 yards from the sea, then we notice what a low tide it is, and how QUICKLY the water is draining, just running away. Then we see a long, white wave on the horizon and we hear Thai shouts. Suddenly we realise they?re all scrambling up the slope away from the wave and we race away, grabbing what we can, our bags, our shoes.

?We watch the whole place get trashed in seconds. The first wave takes away the kitchen, decking, everything. We go down to salvage and we?re there when the second wave approaches and have to race up again, the four of us, trek upwards to the mountain, through the jungle, following a tiny path and sometimes none at all. We emerge on a road and are told a 150ft wave is approaching. The road is too low and we have to climb the mountain properly. It?s 30-plus degrees, we?re carrying all our bags, wearing sandals, without having eaten. We all need water so after an hour or so we walk down to a tiny village and sleep on a porch. And here?s the really scary part. We were only not on Phi Phi (or on a boat heading to it) because we were lazy about booking a tour. We were only not on Phuket because the tour operator said the bungalows were all full.

Anyway, enough of me. How are you? Love you. Kate.?