Belfast Telegraph

Irish couples tell of lucky escape from deluge horror
Holidaymakers witness earthquake devastation

By Isabel Hurley and Louise McCall
27 December 2004

An Irish couple and their young son had a lucky escape after a massive tidal wave hit their hotel in the popular tourist resort of Phuket, Thailand.

Gerard and Emily Donnelly, of Lucan, Co Dublin, and their son Jack (5) spent last night in the darkened upper storeys of the Holiday Inn, which was lashed by a 30-foot wall of water that flooded the first three storeys of the building.

The huge waves struck the resort, which is a favourite with Irish tourists, at around 10am local time. It is understood that at present there may be as many as 2,500 Irish people in Thailand on holiday. However, there have been no reports of any Irish fatalities to date.

A Northern Ireland couple had a narrow escape when one of the tidal waves rocked their boat in Thailand.

Mark McBride and Lisa Lavery, from east Belfast, had just left a fishing village in Thailand when the captain of their boat warned them and others to quickly put on life jackets as a huge wave was heading towards them.

In Phuket, massive waves whipped up out of nowhere under deceptive calm blue skies, wreaking havoc and sweeping unsuspecting sunbathers out to sea. Locals said it was all over in 10 minutes, but the damage had been done with roads rendered impassable and the local airport closed under a sea of mud. Cars and buses were thrown into the air, while buildings were demolished under a towering wall of water.

Last night, Mr Donnelly's brother John said the family were thankfully uninjured after their ordeal but were stuck in their Phuket hotel without power or supplies.

Along with other adults, the couple were trying to comfort children who had become separated from their parents in the melee.

Earlier, Mr Donnelly told RTE and Sky News that Phuket was a scene of utter chaos.

"The place is devastated, there are cars piled up on top of each other, people trapped in cars, dead bodies everywhere. It is absolutely horrendous.

"I was in our room, which was on the second floor and when we heard all the bangs, we thought it was a terrorist attack at first. So we just got out of there and we didn't know what was going on at all.

"We saw the water pouring in, so we headed straight up onto the roof of the hotel. The place is pretty bad," he said.

John Donnelly said last night that his brother and family were on the fifth floor of the Phuket hotel in pitch darkness.

"I talked to Gerry by phone and they are not hurt, but it appears to be a scene of mass confusion there. There's lost children without parents, no power in the hotel, the army is on the street outside trying to clear up, the airport is closed. This is their third time to visit the area. They left home around December 16 and were due back on January 10.

"By the sound of things, there is no emergency or action plan in place from the staff. It seems to be the guests largely looking after themselves. Gerry and Emily and Jack are in reasonably good form, but understandably, all they want to do is get out of there and come home. They were very, very lucky not to be hurt.

"But the weather appears to be okay now there," said Mr Donnelly.

Cork journalist Anita Hooley also reported witnessing scenes of horror in Phuket, with some tourists swept out to sea.

"It is the height of the season and the beaches are very crowded. Some people got some warnings from the residents of Phuket. The beach sellers saw what was happening and shouted at them to leave the beaches, but really it was too late for some," she said.

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