Ten years on, the tsunami survivor

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They woke with the sun on their faces, in the midst of an exotic holiday that would be the envy of anyone.

Hours before the families had celebrated Christmas Day on the serene beach and shared their gifts.

SURVIVOR Emma Yeates

SURVIVOR Emma Yeates

But in the space of five minutes everything changed – and their lives would never be the same again.

Earlier that morning a 745-mile section of the Earth’s crust shifted beneath the Indian Ocean and the earthquake released energy equivalent to more than 23,000 Hiroshima bombs.

Families were sitting eating breakfast or enjoying a lie-in in their beach villas as a huge tidal wave – up to 20m high in some places – came hurtling towards them.

The damage it caused was indiscriminate as it flattened beach villas and lifted trucks off the ground.

The death toll was almost incomprehensible – around 275,000 people.

It’s now 10 years since the Boxing Day Tsunami and families living locally who were caught up in the tragedy are reflecting on what happened and those who lost their lives.

A group of 26 sailing friends, including a group from the Emsworth area, went to Thailand for Christmas to stay in Orchid Villas, Khao Lak.

The women chose to stay at the beach villas while their husbands went to play golf.

Six of those women would lose their lives, including Pippa Rea, 40, and Holly Riddle, 21, both from Nutbourne.

Talking about those tragic events a decade ago is understandably too painful for some families and some relatives declined to speak to The News.

One family in the group who all returned home safe were the Yeates – something the family admit is purely down to ‘luck of the draw’.

Emma Yeates, then 14, was washed away by the tsunami, having stayed overnight at the beach villa of the family of the late Sir Richard Attenborough.

She survived while her friend Lucy Holland, 15, the actor’s granddaughter, died.

Emma’s father Peter Yeates, 58, did not go to play golf as he had hurt his knee and went out in the car with his then-wife Jenny Yeates and their other daughter Lucy-Anne.

He says: ‘We went out to do something completely different.

‘We didn’t go down to the beachside restaurant.

‘We got in the car and went to get fuel.

‘I got everybody out of the villa by 10.10am and then heard there was going to be a tidal wave coming in.

‘I stopped getting the fuel and drove down to the villas.

‘We got out of the car and saw the water coming up the beach. I quickly turned the car around. We abandoned getting Emma and drove off to higher ground.’

The family stayed in a jungle on a hill that night, believing that Emma had died because Lucy’s body had been found on the beach.

Emma, who was in the water for three hours and was picked up by a patrol boat, also believed all her family had died.

Peter, who grew up in North End and works as a property developer in Havant, says: ‘We assumed she had been washed away.

‘We were told she had not survived and no-one had seen her. We still held a glimmer of hope. It was a very long night. We kept the fires going through the night.

‘We had no idea Emma was alive. For the best part of the next day we were not aware – it was over 30 hours she was lost to us.

‘Then suddenly a text came through from my friend saying she was found and was alive.’

The family were reunited in Bangkok but there was no big celebration as other people in the group were still searching for loved ones.

Peter says: ‘It was a case of being very pleased that Emma had been found.

‘She was very dazed and very shocked. She did not really believe we were alive. She thought her whole family had been wiped out.’

They returned home to Prinsted and, with some difficulty, continued their lives, but their perspective was forever changed.

Ten years on Emma is a successful 24-year-old woman, having obtained a first-class honours degree in business at the University of Chichester.

She is currently travelling in New Zealand and plans to work in travel and tourism.

Her sister Lucy-Anne, now 22, is a waitress at The Kennels Clubhouse at Goodwood.

Peter says: ‘We were very lucky.

‘We are very grateful and feel very lucky that we survived the tsunami.

‘Emma still has flashbacks. She’s quite a robust character, but she had a very nasty experience. For those who lost someone, I would imagine every day you think of the ones who were lost.

‘I can’t say it’s the same for me now. We do reflect on it from time to time but you don’t live and breathe it.’

Peter stays in touch with the other families and some of them plan to meet up on Boxing Day.

Peter says the experience made him realise what is important in life and also appreciate the immense power of mother nature.

‘You don’t know what is round the corner,’ he says.

‘You have to be grateful for every day and make the best of your life. You are just a pinprick – that’s it.

‘When there’s so much tragedy going on, it’s very difficult to come to terms with it. There was just so much of it.’

The families launched the Khao Lak Community Appeal and around £1.25m was raised to help rebuild the devastated Thai communities.

Peter says: ‘We have been back to Thailand a few times and it’s all been rebuilt.

‘Emma has been back a few times and visited the site. There’s a memorial there now. Emma was located a kilometre and a half inland by a patrol boat that was swept inland. The boat is now there as a memorial.

‘They have built the beach up and have early warning systems in. Life’s moved on.’

Peter’s former wife Jenny Yeates, from Funtington, adds: ‘Anything that I can say would pale into insignificance, compared to what the families who lost loved ones must be feeling.

‘Our lives are changed beyond measure, causing us to be truly grateful for our good fortune.

‘I can only speak for myself when I say that every day, I count my blessings for all that I have – family, friends and a meaningful life.

‘This is a positive result of getting so close to losing everything.’

Collecting in Charlotte’s memory

CHARLOTTE Jones was just 23 when she was killed while waiting for a ferry on the island of Ko Racha Yai in Thailand.

Family and friends set up Char’s Fund in her memory and the charity has raised more than £100,000 to help impoverished children in Thailand.

Charlotte’s mum, Liz Jones, from Petersfield, shares her thoughts...

‘After Charlotte died it became important to us to do something in her memory to help the young people living in the area of Thailand where Charlotte died.

‘It is through Char’s Fund that we believe that we have made a lasting and wonderful impact on the lives of the young people that we support.

‘Transport and uniforms are some of the added costs that make school unaffordable to poorer families. This problem was solved for the recipients of Char’s Fund and made it easier for a child from a disadvantaged background to stay in education.

‘Currently Char’s Fund supports 15 young people, through school and on to further education and university.

‘They are all immensely proud to have been chosen by their teachers for this privilege. Charlotte was a very intelligent and compassionate young woman who loved children and we hope that she would be proud of the work that her dad, now deceased, put into the charity in the early years and of all the people involved.

‘Her family and friends and complete strangers who have given so much time, support and money to this endeavour, thank you.

‘This year is a reminder that time does not stand still and it is impossible to believe that 10 years has passed since that tragic day that destroyed so many lives.

‘There should have been a tsunami warning system in place and now there is, too late for Charlotte but it may yet save many lives.’

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