Tsunami Diary: My experience of the aftermath

Thinking of all the families/victims/pets involved in Boxing Day Tsunami 8 years ago. The day after I flew out to Thailand to help humans & pets. At the time I was writing for a local paper in Brighton here’s my diary:

15th January 2005: Post-tsunami Phuket
It’s been the strangest few days of my life. The sights, sounds and smells of post-tsunami Thailand will be with me forever. I came out here just after Christmas to help with a dog charity – a project funded partly by more-than generous Argus readers. I was on duty at the emergency clinic in Brighton when the wave hit and three days later I was here. A strange decision you may think, but I love to do charity work so I couldn’t not come when their need for volunteers was so great – and I’ve never looked back.

Just talking to the locals and survivors about their own personal experiences of the disaster is mind-blowing. Vivid descriptions of bagging bodies, livelyhoods destroyed and to actually see with my own eyes the damage nature has caused will forever pale any slight problems I may consider into utter insignificance.

There are many stories of wild animals knowing beforehand that the tsunamis were coming. Most pets slept right through it. Here in Phuket, the number of homeless dogs has certainly increased. The stray dogs, especially the beach dogs who were once fed on leftovers from the hotels and foodstalls, have been left without food or water. In addition, dogs who were obviously pets, such as toy poodles and dachshunds, are wandering the streets.

The former pets have been left where they are for the moment, hoping that their families will return and claim them, the main problem emerging seems to be concentrating of the dog packs that have formed. Sadly the charity I’m involved with was hit very badly as one of their most dedicated volunteers in the group Leone Cosens, was killed when she went to warn people on Yanui Beach of the tsunami.

Of the group’s greatest needs right now, we are in desperate need of funds to buy dog food. Of course, the food itself would be most welcome, but the logistics of getting a shipment over here may be insurmountable.

Why worry about dogs when so many people have been affected? First is the practical side. Starving dogs will automatically head for the nearest corpse. Stressed dogs will be vulnerable to diseases communicable to humans. To protect people, the dogs must be protected too.

Second, this terrible catastrophe has two lessons. Whatever destruction man can wreak on man, Nature herself can go far beyond.

In a world where we cannot know what this planet has in store for us, we cling to only one certainty – that all life is sacred, even the life of a starving dog.

22nd Jan 2005: Life Goes On…. ‏
What a week! The speed of the clean-up operation out here is incredible. From cars piled three high, boats in peoples front-gardens and mattresses in trees to almost normality. The tourist trade has been hit so badly over here, but the message now is – ‘It’s safe to come back!’. And it really is.

Animal-wise, we’ve been really busy. Most of the week has been spent in Patong’s largest temple, neutering strays and treating our four-legged tsunami-victim friends. Many are simply starving and dehydrated which is usually easily corrected, but some require more in-depth treatments with more uncertain outcomes. The animals we are treating are either rounded up by the monks, brought to us on the back of motorbikes or have to be blow-darted first as they are so scared.

By far the most challenging day so far – emotionally and physically – has been visiting the island of Ko Phi Phi. As most of you will have read/seen on tv, this was one of the areas of Thailand most affected by the wave. There are no words to describe what we experienced there.

Our mission was to see if there were any dogs or cats left alive and what condition they were in. We took bags of pet-food with us and found only one dog and four cats. Walking over rubble littered with the personal effects of the hundreds of victims was incredibly upsetting for the whole team, and needless to say, there were other images that are impossible to write about.

The animals we found scattered around this flattened island paradise were in fairly good condition apart from one kitten (pictured below) which was in a pretty bad way – dehydrated, collapsed and covered in fleas. We brought little ‘Phi Phi’ (as she was named) back to the mainland where she received all the necessary treatment to get her through her unbelievable ordeal.

'Phi Phi'

Since arriving here, I’ve been constantly impressed with the spirit of the people. From the Thais themselves to the various international rescue teams, as well as the huge numbers volunteers who are working non-stop to return this beautiful part of the world to how it was just weeks ago.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my condolences to any families or friends that have been personally affected by this global tragedy.

29th Jan 2005: Goodbye Thailand…For Now.
My last week in Thailand, and by far the hardest to deal with – both emotionally and physically. After the horrors of Phi Phi and Patong, we were to spend a few days in and around Khao Lak – the kingdom’s worst affected areas.

Once again, there are few words that could describe what we witnessed, needless to say it was like a bomb had been repeatedly dropped to flatten this previously pristine stretch of inhabited coastline. Particularly disturbing was the large scale amount of work already underway to restore and clean-up the Western-influenced resorts, side-by-side with devastated local fishing villages – that still were only just being considered, obviously featuring much lower down the ‘priority list’.

Even through this seemingly unfair division of labour, a ray of hope emerged. We met a woman sitting on a stone no bigger than a coffee table. “Why are you sitting here all alone on this stone” we asked? “This was my house,” she replied, “I come here every day to feed my dog who returns to the same place at the same time”.

We treated and sterilized many strays – both dogs and cats – capturing them by blow-dart and operating in a remote temple that was remarkably still standing. We also spent a day at Phuket’s Dog Pound doing much the same, but still feeling it was a tiny contribution to the huge amount of work that’s still outstanding here.

So many dogs that had un-naturally out-lived their owners, now in pens awaiting adoption if really lucky, but most likely resigned to a life behind bars in searing temperatures. Yet another emotional knock-back.

It’s been an incredible few weeks here in post-tsunami Thailand. Our team has been brilliant with the simple common goal – to help these poor animals and prevent any further suffering.

Thanks also for reading my Thailand reports, it’s been a tragically unique experience to share with you all, and I’ll definitely be back to help the charity again next year.

flag dog - 'hope'!

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