Archive for Thursday, January 13, 2005

Schedule changes spares Lancasters

Visit to wave-ravaged island resort dropped

January 13, 2005

Their hosts' bargain hunting for beach resorts steered a De Soto family out of harm's way during a recent trip to the tsunami-ravaged country of Thailand.

While visiting friends in northern Thailand from Dec. 20 to Jan. 3, Lyle and Kim Lancaster, along with their two children, nixed plans for a side trip to the Indian Ocean resort island of Phuket in favor of a gulf resort where their hosts found a better vacation package. About the time a huge tsunami washed over Phuket, killing thousands, the Lancasters were headed in the opposite direction.

Although the family escaped danger on Dec. 26, they experienced rifts in communication and witnessed firsthand some of the disaster's after effects, as travelers trying to get home packed northern airports while doctors and relief poured in.

Lyle and Kim Lancaster, both teachers, had been saving up for a long time to visit friends in Chiang Mai, one of Thailand's northernmost cities.Their friends, missionaries affiliated with the family's church, Overland Park Church of Christ, suggested Christmastime because the weather typically is at its best.

Plane tickets were lined up six months in advance, Kim Lancaster said, along with a tentative mini-vacation in Phuket. The couple's children, Logan and Mackenzie, who attend kindergarten and third grade at Starside Elementary School, would go, too.

The side trip to Phuket was later switched to Koh Samet, a different resort island on the opposite side of Thailand's southern peninsula. Koh Samet is in the Gulf of Thailand, while Phuket is in the Indian Ocean.

Unaware that which coast they visited would make such a difference, Kim said her reservations about international travel never included killer waves.

"Everyone was talking about terrorists and terrorism," she said. "But earthquakes and tsunamis just never entered my mind."

Strangely, as soon as the wave hit, everyone back home knew more about what happened than the Lancasters, who were within a few hours of the disaster.

"The communication is just not what it is here," Lancaster said. "You guys over here had way more information."

Back home, friends and family had enough information to worry; the last thing they remember was that the De Soto residents were excited about hitting the beach.

In retrospect, Lancaster said, sending a quick e-mail to friends and family mentioning that there had been an earthquake but that her family was still headed to the beach wasn't at all reassuring for folks back home -- they were more abreast of the situation than the Thai travelers.

The family knew only that there had been an earthquake somewhere in the south, and they hoped it wouldn't spoil their travel plans.

"Our only concern was that we might not get to the beach," Lancaster said.

Koh Samet reported normal conditions, so the Lancasters stuck with their plan. It wasn't until they arrived and happened upon a CNN report, translated to English and printed out, that the Lancasters realized what a horrible thing had happened on the other side of Thailand's southern peninsula.

"We read it, and we said 'Oh my, we had no idea the magnitude of this,'" Kim said. "It's just unbelievable."

The Lancasters' hosts knew several people who headed south to help with relief efforts. But with two young children, following them wasn't an option for her family.

The family made their scheduled plane home on Jan. 3 but found it much more crowded than their initial trip.

The Bangkok airport, too, was a center of activity.

"It was jam-packed, to the point where you could hardly move," she said.

Flags of all kinds marked spots for people of their respective countries to get help, places were set up for injured or displaced travelers to call home for free, and at least one airplane was on hand to fly doctors down south for free, Lancaster said.

The Dec. 26 tsunami hit Thailand and other countries framing the Indian Ocean with no warning. With a confirmed death toll of nearly 160,000 and counting, the wave was one of the world's strongest in the past 40 years.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.