For thousands of young travelers from Sydney to Stockholm, this was the perfect tropical island, a palm-swaying dreamscape rising gently out of an emerald sea.
But tourists on Phi Phi had their paradise turned upside down on Sunday, when tidal waves triggered by a mammoth Indonesian earthquake rained down.
“It was like a scene from the apocalypse. There was litter everywhere — motorcycles, cars and dead bodies. I saw many dead babies on the beach,” said Pascale Panuel, a French woman living in Tokyo.
As helicopters hovered overhead and large ferries and small speedboats arrived to evacuate stunned tourists and villagers, rescuers combed through the rubble of what were once bungalows, bars, Internet cafes and dive shops.
‘Nobody was prepared’
“Nobody was prepared. There was no warning. Lots of people were instantly dead,” said Daniel Friberg, a 24-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden, who had spent two months on the island as a bartender.
Foreign governments worked feverishly on Monday to tally the number of their citizens believed dead or missing. Thousands of Europeans were vacationing in areas where the disaster struck, including Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Maldives.
Rome said at least 11 Italians were killed; Norway said 10 citizens died. Four Britons were reported killed. The United States and Denmark said three of their citizens died. France, Sweden and Belgium reported two deaths each, and New Zealand reported one death.
Those numbers would likely rise. Sri Lanka said 72 foreign tourists were killed there. In Thailand, 35 of the dead were identified as foreigners.
As many as 20,000 Swedes may have been in areas hit hard by the tidal waves, Swedish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nina Ersman said. Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Finns traditionally flock to Thailand during their long, cold winters.
Hot lines created
Foreign ministries across Europe set up hot lines for concerned relatives seeking information on family and friends in the region. Swiss Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Daniela Stoffel-Fatzer said a government hot line was overloaded by calls.
Also among the missing, injured or dead were nationals of South Korea, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Hong Kong, Australia, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia, and Chile, Thai media reported.
Frenchman Philippe Gilbert recounted gripping a tree and holding his breath when a giant wave hit his beachside bungalow in the southern Sri Lankan resort of Tangalle. He watched helplessly as his 4-year-old granddaughter disappeared in waves triggered by the 9.0-magnitude undersea quake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
“I was completely carried by an absolutely monstrous wave that towered over the bungalow,” Gilbert said in a telephone interview broadcast by French television station LCI. “I lost my granddaughter in it.”