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January 21, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, January 21, 2005

Surviving the tsunami Surviving the tsunami (January 21, 2005)

Scuba-diving family returns safely from Thailand

By Roseanne G. Pereira

For the Kaspar family of Mountain View, the great beauty of a world-class scuba trip brought with it great terror when the South Asian tsunami hit. Charles and Bonnie Kaspar, along with their children, had traveled to the western coast of Thailand for a special scuba adventure.

"The ocean was so beautiful, so clear. You wouldn't just see one giant fish, you would see a hundred," said Bonnie.

The morning of the tsunami, the family members were in different locations. While Bonnie and son Bill, 22, stayed at their hotel on Karon Beach, Charles and daughter Kim, 19, went out to scuba dive at the nearby Similan Islands.

It wasn't a typical trip. Far away from the beach, they saw erratic tide movements, and their divemaster wouldn't let them enter the water.

"On one side of the boats, the currents were going one way, and on the other, the other way," Charles recalled.

Two hours later, when the divemaster allowed the Kaspars to dive, no one seemed to be out anymore. "It was surreal," recalled Charles. "It felt like we were diving in outer space, just floating with the currents."

When they returned to shore, things had changed. Debris filled the water, boats were caught in trees, the dock didn't exist anymore, the town was deserted.

Eventually, Charles and Kim were brought closer inland, where they saw even more devastation, "Cars were in the middle of rice fields. One car was on fire. We saw a dead, bloated body on the side of the road, bluish," said Charles.

"In the middle of a shopping area, there was a Scandinavian family, all wearing swimming trunks except for a boy, who was naked. The boy had nothing -- they had lost everything," remembered Charles.

While Charles and Kim were watching strange water patterns at sea, Bonnie awoke around 8 in the morning to the hotel shaking. She woke up her son, who initially thought his mother's worries were uncalled for.

"This is not California," Bill reminded his mother, thinking the movement might have been caused by a washing machine.

After the shaking had stopped, Bonnie and Bill tried to find someone who knew what had happened, but all the Thais had deserted the hotel.

According to Bonnie, parts of the beach had been swept away including chairs and umbrellas. Mud and trash were everywhere.

"It looked like a big dip, like a sharp knife had cut out of the beach," said Bonnie.

The family reunited at the hotel later that night, and a few days later, flew back to the U.S.

"Most people came aboard with nothing. Someone had a broken arm, another a face scratched," said Bonnie. "It was like a refugee airplane, nobody smiling. Everybody was just sitting there uneasy; people were really hurt."

Charles summed up his family's rare experience: "It was like a light in a room. The light turns off, the room goes dark. Then the light turns on, and people's lives have drastically changed."

E-mail Roseanne G. Pereira at [email protected]

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