I want to tell you about our congregation’s efforts to help with tsunami relief aid. First, though I want to tell you about Karl Purnell’s personal experience—it will put a closer human perspective on the unfolding story.
Karl has been attending the church for years. I got to know him personally when his 28-year old son, Chris, was killed in an avalanche while climbing a mountain in Nepal several years ago. Karl did a candle lighting at the time of Chris’s death, then he came to talk with me.
He’s a successful author, so it was natural that Karl would use his writing skills as a vehicle to plunge the depths of his grief. He retraced his son’s footsteps, literally, by climbing the mountains his son loved, then wrote a book, A Mountain Too Far: A Father’s Search for Meaning in the Climbing Death of His Son, published in 2001. He became acquainted with Buddhist monks in the Himalayas where his son had spent time with Buddhist monks, and Karl built a school there. That brief background helps frame the email I got from Karl last week following the tsunami:
“Two days ago, I was in an internet cafe in Phuket, Thailand where I getting warm after three months in a Himalayan monastery when the two tidal waves hit the beach a block away. Three seconds after I hit the send button of the letter I was writing I heard a loud roar. I looked out the window and water was rushing down the street. “Good God,” I thought. “What is going on?” However, everything happened very quickly and suddenly the water was rushing against the door of the internet room where I was alone. I realized I had to get out fast, but I couldn’t open the door because the flood of water had pushed a big desk against the door. I was trapped and the room was rapidly filling up with water. I looked around and realized I couldn’t get out and the water was now up to my waist.
”Just then, there was a loud roar and a second tidal wave came racing up the street; it was the most terrifying noise I ever heard…worse than “incoming.” in Vietnam. I thought, “Well, that’s it.” However, the second wave hit the desk and immediately lifted it out onto the street. That allowed me to open the door and jump into the rushing water. Across the street there was a cafe with a cement verandah. I swam and struggled through the flood of filthy water, filled with chairs, cars, debris etc. and climbed onto the cement porch. However, the water was still rising. Fortunately, there was a tree next to the porch, so I climbed up the tree. People were screaming and crying. Many were drowned because they couldn’t swim. The entire town of Phuket was wiped out. Eight people were killed 50 yards from my hotel, which fortunately is on a high hill. My motor scooter was swept away. Then, I had to decide whether to stay in the tree or head for higher ground. Some police came by in the street on a boat and said another big wave was on the way. They took out an old man and a lady in the boat. I wanted to go with them, but of course, I couldn’t do that. I thought of what it must have been like on the Titanic.
“I decided I did not want to stay and take a chance on another wave, so I plunged into the water again, and made my way down the street until finally I reached dry ground. Then I walked back to the hotel, which had been evacuated and all the guests sent to another hotel on a nearby hill. Now, I’m back in the first hotel, which has no water or electricity, but at least it’s safe. The entire beach and all the property are gone. Cars upturned everywhere. I’ve been through some close ones but this one ranks close to the top.”
Karl’s account of his survival brings it closer to home. We all want to help in the relief efforts. You can make a financial contribution by bringing or sending a check made out to UUSC, with a notation for ‘the relief fund.’ Or you can contribute to the fund for children of the city in India where the Sudha Sankar’s mother lives. Shrutika and Amrita spoke movingly at the service on Sunday about the devastation and the children’s need for school supplies and clothing so they can return to their way of life; checks to ICCW.