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Safari ends with Buddhist ritual

by Elizabeth Colman, The Australian, January 5, 2005

Krabi, Thailand -- COWS grazed among the palms and a rooster crowed as Damien Kloot stood bowed over the bones of his wife, Yumi Tanaka. Married for a year after meeting in Bali in 2000, the pair of surfers were on their fourth trip to Thailand - holidaying on the white sands of Phi Phi island.

A Japanese national, Yumi became another victim of the Boxing Day tsunami while Mr Kloot, who had briefly left his wife to take some photographs of the sea, survived. As he waited yesterday for Yumi's ashes to cool, he told how he watched the waves crashing into the island before realising his wife had disappeared.

"We were right in front of the boat pier ... There was three shops with green roofs and we were in front of there, and she had stopped to buy a hair band," he told The Australian.

"And being a lady, being a woman, you know, they take their time and I thought well, I'll ... take some photographs. And that's when all the boats started moving sideways.

"And that's when it came in. The surge came in and in a matter of seconds (the water rose) from my ankle to my waist and I just got carried down and it carried me until I hit the sign of a restaurant.

"I got pinned by a big water container ... I was trapped and it was at that point it was my time. And by a miracle I freed my leg.

"The whole place was shaking. I just had tunnel vision, (thinking) 'where's my wife, where's my wife?'

"I swam, I got back to the place where my wife was and when I got there the place was flat. I stood on the roof, people were screaming, 'another one is coming'. I just stood there screaming and screaming her name, hoping and hoping she could hear me".

But at some point she stopped yelling and Mr Kloot instead ran for higher ground.

"I remember when I was running to the second place, I could just hear people screaming in agony, crying for help, people who had been trapped by the first one screaming for help. I just was hearing the screams," he said, adding that blood was everywhere.

"There was a landing and everyone was just huddled in the landing, but I just jumped straight onto the tin roof and I ran all the way to the end of the roof and I was looking out at another island.

"I just watched the second one, it came from both sides. And that was the worst part, it was just a washing machine, the first one had picked everything up and the second one came and just ...

"It came from both sides and the whole island was like a lake. There was nothing left, you could just see things getting washed around.

"At that point I felt my wife go. I knew she went at that time. I could actually feel her leave me and I just broke down and I probably waited there 15, 20 minutes. And then the water subsided. I ran back down the stairs to where she was and there was just nothing left."

That's when Mr Kloot saw his first body, a little girl floating by.

Over the next five days he wanted to find his wife alive but the feeling that she was gone never left, he said.

With another man whose girlfriend is still missing, Mr Kloot searched the waters, pulling dead bodies on to dry land.

His sister, Joanna, arrived in Thailand last Wednesday to help him search, closely followed by Japanese news crews and embassy staff. An aunt in Australia searched through photographs on the missing tsunami victims' website until she found a picture of a Japanese girl with a spider tattoo on her shoulder.

When Mr Kloot and his sister saw that picture, they knew they had found Yumi. They identified her body at a morgue in Krabi, where many Phi Phi victims were taken, on Monday.

Yumi's family flew in the same day. Ms Kloot said the find brought relief. "Yumi drowned, it was a lot worse for some," she said. "Her body was all right."

The ceremony, with two Buddhist monks chanting in a Krabi temple, was one "high" moment.

"At the end there was this enormous sense of peace, we all felt it," Mr Kloot said.

Mr Kloot will fly to Japan with the family while Ms Kloot travels back to Australia after briefly stopping in Phuket on the way. The family will reunite in Japan for a ceremony there next week.

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