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Former Kenai resident awed by, survives Thailand disaster

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2005

Former Kenai resident and Kenai Central High School graduate Barry Agent survived the earthquake and tsunami on the island of Phuket, Thailand.

Agent considers himself a local kid who grew up in Alaska with a deep appreciation for the power of nature. Over the Christmas weekend, that respect was heavily reinforced with the earthquake and tsunami that impacted most of Southeast Asia.

Agent said concrete and steel-reinforced posts were bent over like match sticks and any building not on stilts most likely disappeared.

"We got hit pretty good, but nothing like Sri Lanka," Agent said. "We didn't have the dead bodies like other places did. Some areas are still scenes from hell."

Agent described the aftermath as complete and indiscriminate devastation. He was away from the beach and out of the tsunami's path and said he feels fortunate for a decision he made to move from the beach not long ago.

"Luckily I was sleeping at my house far enough way from the beach that I was safe, though I wouldn't have been so lucky four months ago," he said. "I moved from a beach house to where I am now. The next day I went down to my old house, which had been destroyed."

Agent, who graduated from KCHS in 1985, said the natural disaster took everyone — locals and tourists — by complete surprise.

"All of the sudden the electricity went out, which is not all that unusual and not that big of thing," he said.

"After the power went off, I took my dog outside and there were all kinds of people running, cruising by while yelling at me to get to a high place. So I made it to a friend's house and waited."

While Agent and his friends waited out the devastating tidal waves, tens of thousands were killed in 12 countries all along Indian Ocean coastlines.

"I couldn't believe the devastation, cars and trucks piled one on another. I made it to the main road and saw a couple dead bodies just lying there naked," Agent said.

Immediately following the destructive waves, Agent was quick to search for some of his friends who have a house on Kamala beach, the hardest hit beach in the area.

"Making my way back to the beach, devastation was the first word that came to my mind. As I got closer to my friend's house, I called out their names. They came out and told me about how they had been trapped on the first floor with all the furniture being tossed around by the water. Somehow they made it to the second floor. They were lucky but were in shock," he said.

"They told me the waves were 20 feet high and lapping over the second floor of the house. The tsunami came in seven or eight waves that got bigger and bigger until about the fifth one. Waves came inland at least three-quarters of a mile, it was a fiend of total devastation. The bodies left behind looked like they had been crucified," he said.

"I have a deep respect for the power of nature. It's part of our thinking in Alaska. This was just an unbelievable force. I look at it in utter amazement."

Agent said there was no warning for people. Having lived in Alaska and Japan, he would have recognized as a warning sign the ocean pulling back as far as it did. But many who saw it had no idea. Local people went out on the beach to collect the fish the sea left behind, he said.

"There were entire families out on the sand. Whole families died out there together when the water came back. There are quite a lot of kids who lost their parents and vice versa," Agent said.

Local Phuket media reports the cleanup has been swift as the islanders look forward to bringing back tourism.

"The cleanup has been massive. Electricity was back up and running and the thing is, we've got to get the place cleaned up to bring the tourists back. That is the biggest source of income. The sooner tourists return, the quicker we'll pull out of this," Agent said.

"The cleanup is also really local. It seems like a lot of expatriates are raising money themselves, making little funds where they can. Most of the international relief has been helping out quite a lot.

"It is going to take a while to get back to normal, but people here can be resourceful. I'm impressed with it so far. As for me, I'll be worried about finances for the next few months," he said.

Like much of the economy in the area, Agent's own tourism-driven livelihood, a corporate training business, is at stake.

"My business will suffer, but I feel lucky because it could have been a much different story," Agent said. "You really have to appreciate what you have."



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