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7 Great Life Lessons From Tsunami Survivor
As I am writing this article, the world is shaken by the tsunami that hit Asia on 26 December 2004. It is only now that we start understanding the greatness of the tragedy.
But it is also at such moments that we can see examples of outstanding people's bravery and courage. And you know, they don't even think about themselves as brave, they simply did what they thought was right.
I am referring to the story of Phuket's resident Bill O'Leary, a former Australian, who saved many lives.
Just 2 minutes before the first wave hit, he received a phone call from his employee, who was on the beach where the company's office is located, "The shoreline receded 250 meters past the swim platform".
O'Leary was in the sea with guests of his cruise company and his 3 children on the board. He knew the news spelled big trouble. The swim platform was anchored 8 meters deep. He also remembered a shake he felt earlier that morning.
Not many people in Thailand knew about tsunamis but Bill immediately recognized the warning signs. Without delay, he phoned his offices and major hotels, telling them to remove people off the beach, "A tsunami is coming. Clear the beach and get people to high ground." He also asked other people on the boat to make phone calls to places they knew.
Then he headed out to the sea to face the giant wave. Bill was on the other side of the island, further away from the upcoming tsunami He was in open water when he received the call from the same employee that tsunami hit the Phuket's beach. Bill pulled back the engines and waited. Then he saw it. A 5-meter step on the water traveling faster than any wave he'd seen before. He directed the boat right at the step and jumped on.
The guests and children were terrified as the boat was riding the wave and everybody was screaming. Bill managed to keep the boat straight until the waves passed. Looking back they could see a wall of water washing off small boats and fish farms ashore. But O'Leary and his crew were safe.
And so were many people that got the 2-minute warning from him. They ran to high grounds and survived. One of the hotels on the beach that got the call, the Marriott, did not have anyone died.
But there also were people who ran back to their homes to fetch some valuables, and who died holding those valuables.
And here are the seven great life lessons we can learn from Bill O'Leary, a tsunami survivor:
1. If you live in the front row, this is where tsunamis hit.
Oceanfront homes come with drawbacks. Have an exit plan in case of emergency and learn the warning signs.
2. A tsunami does not come unannounced.
There ARE warning signs, always. Keep your feelings alert and you should not miss them. If there is a sudden change, seek an explanation.
3. If you know about a problem, alert others.
Don't be afraid to be a Chicken Little. The sky may be really falling.
4. When smell danger, it is wise to run away.
When your gut feeling alerts you, don't freeze. Do something. The problem will only get worse if you wait. If you don't know what can be coming, ask others for help. If there is nobody around to help, simply run. Trust your gut feeling. If you feel unsafe, remove yourself from the situation immediately. Stop a date and excuse yourself. Jump off the car on the traffic light. It's better to be silly than dead.
5. If you cannot run away from the danger, face it with courage.
Jump on the wave and keep your boat straight. Be totally fearless. Fight, if you have to.
6. No matter what happens, keep your cool.
There is no sense in panicking. Don't let your fears or anger overwhelm you. In any situation, the first question you should ask yourself is, "What can I do about it?" Decide on the course of actions and carry on.
7. You are priceless.
You life is thousands times more valuable than anything you own. If you smell danger, forget about your purse, cash or a family memorabilia. Even if you have nothing, you will be still the same person you are today.
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Illustration by Kevin Van Aelst for The Chronicle Review - Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription)
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