By HUGH KEARNEY
A FORMER Murwillumbah schoolgirl has told how she and her husband and their 15-month-old baby boy escaped when the devastating tsunami hit their Phuket resort on Boxing Day.
Kelly Ayres, who grew up and went to school in Murwillumbah and attended university in Lismore, was at the Club Med resort at Kata Beach where her husband David Barranger, a French national, was the technical services manager.
Kelly and David had married in France in July.
David had been granted Australian residency and resigned from his position at Club Med in preparation for the couple's planned move to Australia on December 30.
Last Sunday was David's rostered day off work and the couple had started packing their bags in their ground floor unit when the tsunami hit.
"It was just on 10 o'clock and I could hear this noise like we were under a waterfall," Kelly said."I walked into the loungeroom and water was pouring out of the electrical sockets. I called out to David to check it out and when he saw it he said 'Bugger, it's my day off'."
"At first we thought a pipe had burst but it became clear very quickly it was much worse, and this mass of black, muddy water and sewage started coming in and filling the rooms."
As David rushed off to assist guests in the lower guest rooms, Kelly grabbed Sebastien and passed him to a New Zealand friend from an upstairs unit who had waded through swirling water to help.
"I passed him to and her and said 'Go!'," Kelly said.
"Then I went back inside to salvage anything I could.
"As I got out the door the sec- ond wave hit and the water was waist-high but I made it to the resort lobby. There was blood all over the floor and people with shocking injuries," she said.
Kelly was reunited with her baby after 10 minutes but had no idea where her husband. After 30 minutes David appeared in the lobby, soaked and suffering cuts and bruises. He had gone to the beach to help rescue victims when the second wave hit. He had ridden out the tsunami clinging desperately to a pole.
On the beach, he had found the body of a French colleague, a plumber who was his workplace offsider. David had arranged a municipal truck to carry the body to a hospital, but it was misplaced in the confusion. He then spent the next several days searching before he was able to relocate the man's body.
"When I see the television footage of the devastation I am humbled by the suffering of the other people. We really got off very lightly," she said.
Kelly said she saw the best and worst of people in the aftermath of the disaster.
"The Thai people were wonderful, giving their shoes to guests whose feet were burning on the hot road, and sarongs to people who had no clothes on.
"David found a tractor and brought trailer loads of sandwiches and bottled water up to the temple, yet some guests complained they weren't getting what they paid for, which was very disappointing," Kelly said.
Kelly and David lost almost everything in the water but managed to salvage their soggy passports, airline tickets and David's all-important residency stamp.
Kelly said on return to Brisbane Airport, the survivors were met by counsellors.
"I suppose we were still in shock and it really didn't hit us until we touched down, so that was really great to have that support," she said.