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Six-minute warning as massive wave claims lives of guests and staff

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The day started as most days do in Khao Lak – warm, sunny skies, light breeze and still waters. There was nothing that suggested what was about to happen. The hotel was fully booked and guests were slowly unwinding for Boxing Day.

Many people breakfasted late, had early morning swims in the pools, strolled along the beach or slept in.

We didn’t know that there had been an earthquake off the Sumatra coast and – as it was 1,000km away – few could have anticipated that it would affect a resort area so far away.

The first suggestion that something was wrong came at 10.30am, when executive assistant manager Abu Hurair noticed a dark line on the horizon that stretched the full length of the beach.

The tide had receded and he called me to have a look. Hotel guests were on the beach watching the sea and taking photographs of the unusual waterscape in front of them.

He also alerted Erwann Maye, executive assistant manager food and beverage, who ran down to the beach to warn guests to leave and move up to higher ground.

In less than six minutes the first wave hit, measuring over 10 metres. Abu was trying to help an elderly German couple to move up from the beach when he was hit by the wave. A 37-year-old Indian national, Abu paid for his efforts with his life.

I saw the wave was about to hit the resort and ran towards the lobby. I avoided the full impact of the wave and managed to get to the lobby and climb onto a pillar before the water rushed in and rose above my waist.

Erwann had tried to warn as many people as he could before the wave hit and, like me, sprinted as fast as possible towards the lobby, also climbing onto a pillar to get above the water – which was still one-metre deep in the third-storey lobby.

There were injured and dead among the people who had sought refuge in the lobby.

In less than five minutes a second wave hit – not as intense as the first – and everyone had to climb up out of the water again. After the water subsided, no-one moved, fearing another wave.

Around noon we decided it was time to seek a safer location on higher ground. Erwann and myself then went into action. The vast majority of surviving guests were in two locations, either in the lobby or on the hill next to the hotel. Many people had run there when they saw the wave approaching, while the force of the tsunami had deposited others there.

The next task was to transfer the people in the lobby to the hill as quickly as possible because there was the on-going fear another wave might hit the resort. Some could walk, some were carried, others were wheeled in office chairs, delivery carts and baggage trolleys to the hill.

Once this was completed, the resort was searched for survivors, though as most of the rooms on the first two levels had been completely swamped with water, few people were found alive.

By 2pm the first truck arrived – driven by a German man who lived next to the resort – and we began evacuating the wounded. Other trucks, driven by relatives of staff looking for their family members, started to arrive and they helped transport guests to safety and we congregated at Takuapa Hospital.

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