Web Exclusives: PawPlus

February 9, 2005:

Ed Rogers ’87 was on vacation on the southern coast of Sri Lanka with his wife, Betsy, and sons Eddie Jr. and Wyatt when the Dec. 26 tsunami hit the island nation. Rogers, the director of structured equity finance at Deutsche Securities Limited in Tokyo, offered these recollections of that day:

The first wave

“Around 8:30 a.m. Betsy took Eddie down to swim in the kiddie pool. Standing on our fourth-floor balcony, I observed the ocean pull back about 30 yards into the seabed. Strange, I thought. After watching a few minutes, I put Wyatt in the stroller and went downstairs to speak to Betsy. When I reached ground level I had missed a somewhat larger than normal wave land on the beach. Eddie was bouncing around in the water and Betsy was chatting to an English gentleman, who later mentioned there had been a large earthquake off the coast of Indonesia that morning. The penny dropped, and I realized that the wave was the tsunami effect from the earthquake.”

The second wave

“Back in the room about 9:30, we packed essentials in two knapsacks. We changed from sandals to sneakers in case we were faced with running or climbing. From our balcony we watched the second wave land. It covered the entire beach area. We had missed our window of opportunity to leave. If we left, we would potentially be caught in open flat road, miles from any significant rise in elevation. If we stayed, we had to consider if the hotel foundation might give way. We decided to stay.”

The third wave

“We prepared for the worst, while praying for the best. I thought the waves might get much bigger, and people would by choice or necessity head to the fourth (highest) floor of the hotel. From our balcony we saw the third wave building 500 yards offshore. Local fishermen, who were securing their boat to palm trees by the beach, began to run for their lives. Seven or eight of them were caught in the worst of the wave. We watched them get knocked over and carried into trees and other solid objects as they were swept inland. Hotel staff and guests still at ground level ran for the stairs in the lobby.

“After a few minutes of watching and listening to what was going on at the ground-floor level, I went to find the hotel manager and offered to help. As people were being swept past the hotel, there might be a chance to pull some of them out of the water.

“The narrow fourth-floor hallway was packed with 50 to 60 people and their luggage. At the top of the stairs I helped a Sri Lankan family bring up a grandmother in a wheelchair. The top of the stairs became a bottleneck as many guests were trying to bring packed suitcases with them to safety. There was certainly no room for 200-odd people and their luggage on the fourth floor.

“I could see into the inner courtyard and to the back of the hotel, where people were being swept past by the wave. Staff pulled gardening hoses off the second-floor terrace and were using them as lifelines – throwing hoses to people caught in the tsunami. At this point the water was probably 20 feet above sea level, and had risen to about 10 feet above the ground level of the hotel.

“This was the high point of crisis in the hotel. Hotel staff were trying to pull fishermen out of the swirling waters. The guests I could see moving from the second to the third to the fourth floor were in a state ranging from heightened concern to clear panic. People were calling out the names of missing children and spouses.

“Betsy took about 20 people into our room, mostly women and children. The small children were clearly panicked. We had no idea when the water would stop rising, or if more waves were on the way, and there was nothing left to do but sit out the event. We discussed the foundation and our chances of survival if we had to climb on the roof.

“So at that stage, we simply had to sit and wait out the water. Having done what was possible to prepare for the worst, we just hoped and prayed for the best. For the next four hours we watched the sea recede, and then advance again, on a much smaller scale. We debated whether the worst was past, or yet to come.

“The first-floor lobby and dining area were destroyed. Glass walls were smashed to bits, and much of the ground-floor furniture was swept away. The waters carried items through and past our hotel for a distance of approximately one mile.

“After reading this story, many people have asked me for donation suggestions. My wife and I are donating to Save the Children. Save the Children has been operating for over 20 years throughout the entire area affected by the tsunami. They provide short-, medium-, and long-term disaster support for children and their families. Short-term relief includes distribution of ‘family packs’ with tents, blankets, household utensils, books – all of the items needed for survival if one’s entire house has vanished. Also of critical importance is their work in refugee camps to register missing children and reunite them with any surviving family members. In the medium and long term, Save the Children works with local communities to provide schools and sanitation. Save the Children usually provides the tools, material and guidance needed for construction work; the local communities supply the labor.

“I have spoken with the COO of Save the Children and the preliminary estimates indicate the organization will need approximately $250 million [in U.S. dollars] over the next five years to address the effects of the Bay of Bengal tsunami. Over $50 million is needed immediately.”