“There were tables, chairs and TVs floating in the sea.” Alexy Dury, the Deaf woman who survived the 2004 tsunami tells her story (BSL)

Posted on December 22, 2014

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Alexy's group of scuba divers

It’s now ten years since the Indian Ocean earthquake and the devastating tsunami that followed. Alexy Dury, a Deaf scuba diver, was on holiday in Thailand at the time. Here she writes (and signs) for the first time about her experience.

It was around 11am on Boxing Day, 2004.  I remember the time well because I was already enjoying my second scuba dive of the day, just after breakfast.

To watch this article in BSL, signed by Alexy Dury, click play below. 

I was diving just off the Andaman islands, and it was spectacular. The seabed was breathtaking, and I was looking at colourful coral as hundreds and thousands of fish swam around us.

I was in the middle of the dive when suddenly, there was an abrupt change in the water, and all of the fish disappeared.

All I remember from then on was being tossed and spun, as if I was inside a washing machine.

At one point, I remember seeing a glimpse of a huge jellyfish passing me by at great speed!

I was so disoriented I didn’t know which way I should go to reach the surface.

It was like a mini whirlwind beneath the sea bed, creating a sand screen around us all, with visibility almost zero. Luckily I wasn’t hit by any rocks or debris.

Just ahead of me I noticed a bright yellow flipper which was within my reach, so I grabbed it. To my relief,  it was my diving instructor. We signalled “OK” to each other and then went looking for the other diver.

Luckily, we found her only a few feet away. She was a beginner and hard of hearing but thankfully she used a little sign language. I made sure that she was ok then our instructor found us a buoy line to hold onto until we could assess what had just happened.

I noticed that the buoy ball above us at the surface was moving frantically in and out of the water, I knew this was not normal and could sense that something was wrong.

As a precaution we stayed for approximately 5 minutes at a depth of 3 metres below the water level.

As we surfaced, everything looked normal. The sky was blue, and the sun was shining.

Alexy's group of scuba divers

Alexy’s group of scuba divers

My group of scuba divers were noticeably spread out, a good distance apart. The boat had to go around and collect us one-by-one, and thankfully no one was hurt.

None of us really knew what had happened, and even the captain was confused. He explained that his computer had gone crazy, and the depth of the seawater kept increasing and decreasing beneath the boat – which was very unusual.

The captain radioed to another boat along the coast trying to find some answers. As the information was exchanged from one boat to another, the story began to unfold.

First we heard about a cruise ship that had struck a reef just offshore, killing a handful of people. Then we were told of an earthquake that had killed approximately 50 people.

Then the next bulletin brought more bad news. Phuket had been wiped out, leaving hundreds dead.

The Thai captain of the boat was insistent on returning home, which left us feeling frightened and scared – not knowing what might happen should there be any aftershocks.

After great debate it was agreed by the captain and the dive team that we would sail back through the night.

In the morning, as we sailed through Puket, we woke up to see destruction all around us. There were uprooted trees and debris  floating as far as the eye could see.

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My phone started to receive a bombardment of text messages from family and friends desperately trying to find out if I was ok.

One of my friends had texted explaining that over 200,000 people had disappeared in what they were calling a tsuamai, which had hit Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka.

My brother was frantic with worry back home, as both my Mum and I were abroad at the same time.

My mum was thankfully on a cruise and very much safe somewhere in the Mediterranean sea. She too had received four emergency calls from the UK and Australia but had reassured everyone that she was fine, as had I.

She told me that her cruise ship in the Mediterranean had experienced ripples stemming from the tsunami all those miles away.

As we docked back in Phuket, the devastating picture gradually emerged. The Thai captain, the runner and the cook set off to see and find their families.

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We as a group stayed local and found out more information from one of  the local bars. Apparently the dock where we were wasn’t affected much but most of the other bays had been.

The captain returned with the cook, but not the runner, who sadly, had lost his family. The atmosphere was so sombre and at the same time eerie, so all I wanted to do was get out there and help.

But we were advised to stay on the boat as we already had all the essential resources for several days (to last one week from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve).

So we sailed from Phuket to another local island, witnessing more destruction as we went. There were tables, chairs, and boxes – the contents of people’s homes – floating in the sea.

Further out to sea our group took in a few more dives but I personally had to stop after two.

The dives were too surreal. It was unnatural to see TVs, cookers and Christmas decorations among the sea life, although thankfully we didn’t see any bodies.

I believe I went into delayed shock  a few days afterwards, as I was physically sick. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be in the middle of a tsunami and escape with my life – unlike the many thousand that lost theirs.

I still have nightmares about this, and those feelings came back after the  Japanese tsuanami a few years later.

But despite the tragedy, Thailand will  be forever in my heart. It is a special place that I will keep with me always. A place of breathtaking beauty, rich in culture and spiritual people.

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The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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