0

By Humphrey Carter

THE Palma-based Swiss structural engineer Urs Muller who, with his girlfriend Katarina Werner, were caught up in the Thailand tsunami, are back in Majorca. Yesterday he admitted that the full impact of the disaster has yet to sink in, “I think I'm going to suffer a delayed reaction.” Initially the Bulletin was informed that the couple, who arrived in Thailand on December 11, had been fortunate enough to book a trip to the mountains the day the killer waves struck - in fact they were just 200 metres from the beach when the giant wall of water hit the little island of Ko Lanta, off Krabi Island slightly further south of Phuket.

Urs, at times stuck for words to describe their lucky escape, told the Bulletin yesterday that it was Katarina's decision to have breakfast instead of their daily morning swim which saved them. “Usually, we had a morning swim at around 10am, but on Sunday, we decided to go and have breakfast at a place which someone had recommended the night before. “We had left our beach front bungalow and headed up to the main road some 200 metres behind us to catch a taxi when, just as we reached the road, there was a sudden roar, this big, big deep booming sound which was followed by screaming. “Through two bungalows I could see this huge wave and, not knowing what was really going on, thought it would be good to surf, so we headed back down to the beach. “We rounded the corner and saw that the beach front had been swept away along with beachbeds, bars and swimmers. “We decided to try and get back to our bungalow and, just as we crossed a bridge over a small sea inlet on the way, the second wave hit. “Fortunately, the left bank was slightly higher and we scrambled up there as the wave crashed past us underneath. “We could see the waves dragging swimmers and photographers who tried to snap the event away - we don't know how many died. “We rushed down to the beachfront where everyone was gathering and we were all told to head to the mountains as after shocks were expected at 1, 3 and 5pm. “Everyone was in shock, complete disbelief, and trying to call people on their mobiles. I called a few friends and some locals I had got to know - they told me what was going on, but even then no one knew the full extent of the disaster. “The whole phenomenon must have lasted between 30 and 45 minutes - then it was dead calm with everything floating in the sea. “Me, Katarina and group of 60 locals, mainly children and 20 foreigners, some injured, in particular an English girl, a good swimmer who was smashed against a car and other debris, got together and headed for the mountains. Many of the local men went back to their homes to salvage all they could and stash it further inland in the fields for safety. “There was also a young Danish guy from the United Nations and he was great with the people suffering from severe shock. “We climbed until around 4pm when we were a good 100 metres above sea level and with a good view. However, having spent so much of my life in this part of the world, I got impatient, I felt I had to do something. I went back down with the guy from the UN, inspected our bungalow, which was luckily well built, and then filled a pick-up truck with food and water to take back up the mountain. “I returned to the beach again later - it was really weird - dozens of elderly Europeans were out and about clearing up, they really wanted to help after such great holidays. “Before going back up the mountain Katarina managed to contact her parents but mine were skiing and suddenly my mind went blank, I couldn't remember any of my contact numbers in Switzerland. “We stayed the night up the mountain and by morning it was clear by then that it was all over,” Urs recalled yesterday. “There was a great sense of solidarity up that mountain. The local Thai people were excellent, they're quick thinkers, they act fast and will recover from this very quickly,” he added.

The next day, Monday, they tried to get to the main Krabi Island as they had a flight booked out of Bangkok for Spain on Sunday, January 2. “The main ferries were down, one had been smashed to pieces full of passengers, but we got over using two local ferries and it was in Krabi where the full aftermath really hit home. “There were tens of thousands of people lining the beaches and crowding the port waiting for the boats coming in to try and identify their lost ones. Ambulances were rushing back and forth from the harbour to the over-flowing hospital constantly. “Despite there being so many people, there was no smiling, no laughter just an overwhelming sense of death. “We just cried and cried... “We felt so bloody helpless, guilty as well, everyone were like zombies, in a trance of shock and disbelief. “We thought about staying to help, but we needed to get out of there - to try and come to terms and get over what happened. I have friends who also survived and others I'm still trying to contact. Having heard the horror stories in the restaurants before we left and seen the full extent on the TV we both feel so privileged to be alive - and extremely lucky. “We have sent money back and will be doing all we can to raise funds - I hope everybody else will do the same.”