Mississippians recount their survival after disaster

Daily Journal report

PHI PHI ISLAND, Thailand – Susan and Scott Sweat, who survived this weekend's earthquake-spawned tidal wave in Thailand, report they have found safer ground and are making the best of a difficult situation.

Susan, a staff member of U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker of Tupelo, and her husband decided to spend the Christmas holidays in this exotic locale, which Susan described to her mother Sallie Pearson of Macon as “the most beautiful place on earth” shortly after they arrived.

Then Sunday morning, the 9.0 earthquake struck off the Indonesian island of Sumatra and a gigantic tidal wave – a tsunami – washed across the Sweats' island paradise, sending them scrambling for higher ground as thousands died in its wake.

Reassurance to family

In an e-mail sent Monday, Susan reassured her family: “We are still on Phi Phi island.Last night, we slept on the top of the island as a precaution for aftershocks. It was kind of crazy.All the guests and the locals up there together spread out all over the ground in hotel sheets.”

At 2 a.m., they were awakened by a helicopter's landing on the tennis courts to evacuate the injured. She said it appeared 60-70 people had died on the island, with lots more injured. The earthquake reportedly is the strongest worldwide since 1964.

“The small villages around our resort and the resort next to ours have been destroyed, but ours suffered remarkably little damage comparatively. Nonetheless, we spent a few hours this afternoon working with the other guests to clean up the beach front and scoop sand off of the paths and front areas of the resort, but there is still much to do (the brooms here are handmade of straw – they look like the things witches ride on at Halloween and are hard to work with).

Susan remarked that the island's natives appeared to be so nervous that many were seen wearing lifejackets at all hours. “This has never happened here before so they are understandably upset,” she remarked.

As for the island's tourist guests, whom Susan observed “perhaps having seen one too many Discovery Channel documentaries on tsunamies,” seem to take this in stride a little more, “granted none of us have lost our homes or, for the fishermen, our livelihoods.”

Rallying to help

In her e-mail, she expressed her pride in “how all of us from all over the world have rallied to help clean up and calm the situation.We've met three other American couples here (most everyone else is from Europe, South Africa or Australia) and have had a nice time getting to know them because of the situation.”

She reported expecting the Thai navy to help evacuate tourists although one effort was cancelled because of choppy waters.

“Scott and I are going to stay here regardless – it's the safest place to be and in the words of our resort manager the airlines have abandoned all flight schedules.'Pretty crazy,” she wrote, saying they plan to leave Wednesday, as they had before the disasters struck.

“We are trying to make the most of the situation – enjoying the pool and the good weather. We have Internet access (obviously) and a TV in one of the common rooms on CNN International. No snorkling or scuba diving this trip, but we have so much for which to be thankful.”

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