I still cannot believe that a year has passed since this day.
Over the last year I have periodically heard from Americans, Aussies and Thai who became friends while we experienced such tragedy. They still live in Thailand and continue the hard work of rebuilding and recovery. My thoughts will always be with them, especially as I recall what we all saw as we arrived in places like Phi Phi Island, Khao Lak and Phuket.
It was at this time one year ago today that the phone rang. At 7:15 a.m. here in our California newsroom, I grabbed the main line and forever my life was changed.
On the other end was the news that FOX needed us in Thailand. My producer Jeff and I had heard about the earthquake off of Sumatra and we knew a tsunami had been reported, but at this time no one would know the devastation and death that existed. We quickly raced to our homes, packed our bags and set out on an adventure that was beyond imagination.
By the time we arrived in Tokyo the death toll was estimated at 4,000. When we arrived in Bangkok for our first set of live reports, the number had grown to 6,000. As we arrived on Phuket, the death toll had reached 10,000. The numbers changed by the minute and no one could grasp the magnitude of how many people had perished.
As we stepped off our Thai plane and into the thick humid air of Phuket, we couldn't get a driver, because they were afraid to leave the airport and head towards tsunami-ravaged areas like Patong Beach. Boats that somehow survived also wouldn’t budge. Their captains afraid of the spirits of the dead, many bodies to this day have still not been recovered and are seemingly buried in the waters off of the beach.
The scene throughout the region was one of awe and uncertainty. People from so many cultures, with so many different languages, sitting in shock at the airport, in some cases wandering the streets and beaches looking for lost loved ones.
For more than three weeks we saw and smelled death. We also met people from all over the world who descended on South Asia with the horrific job of touring makeshift hospitals, hoping their loved ones were alive inside..
The pictures they saw are still also in my mind also. The fliers, reminiscent of Sept. 11, plastered on anything that was standing, though the words were many times foreign to me, the pictures were not.
I can still remember the Swedish family of five, arrows pointed to one adult and two children; the three of them still missing and presumed dead. On an adjacent wall, gruesome photos of dead faces, posted by monks whose place of worship now smelled of death as they helped build pine boxes to bury the unclaimed dead.
I also still remember the young girl, about the age of my 5-year-old niece, her bathroom now at the side of the road near where her village once stood. Her mother’s look of desperation still remains stuck in my mind.
Gradually as the weeks wore on, the spirit of the Thai people and volunteers from around the world emerged. People quickly began to clear the land, while at the same time supported those looking for their missing loved ones. Americans and volunteers from all over the world began to arrive with supplies, support and a determination to help the world recover from this modern day tragedy.
Refugee camps sprouted like rice crops in the field, voices and laughter from children clearing the air that once had been burdened with the smell that I, or many will never forget. Their smiles are what helps me most, still to this day.
As we all remember that horrific event one year ago, I still recommend people to visit Thailand. The countryside is lush, green and stunning. The beaches white, the food spicy and the people welcoming; this country needs tourist dollars now more than ever for recovery. Thai’s are a close ally of the United States and our friendship seems to have grown only stronger during a time of such extreme sorrow.