Swede clings to Phuket hotel pillar

BANGKOK: Up to his chest in raging water, Boree Carlsson clung desperately to a pillar in a hotel lobby as a giant tsunami wave pounded Thailand's Phuket island yesterday. 

“I just couldn't believe what was happening before my eyes,” said Carlsson, a 45-year-old Swede who had rushed into a hotel as the waves rolled into Patong Beach. 

The giant wave flooded the hotel lobby in a matter of seconds and dragged furniture onto the street. 

Carlsson had to wrap himself around a pillar to avoid being swept away. 

“As I was standing there, a car actually floated into the lobby and overturned because the current was so strong,” said Carlsson, who works at another beachside hotel. 

“The water was up to my chest and I was holding onto my friend's hand because he can't swim.” 

The giant waves triggered by an earthquake under the Indian Ocean tossed cars around like toys and swept into luxury hotels on Phuket, a tourist magnet in Thailand's southern holiday playground, killing at least 120 people, officials said. 

The hardest hit areas included Phuket's main resort beaches of Patong, Karon and Laguna where hotels were packed with Western and Asian tourists at the height of the year-end holiday season. 

Minutes after the first wave hit, Carlsson said he heard people screaming that the beach had disappeared. 

“When I got close to the beach I heard more screaming and suddenly I saw this huge wave, taller than the palm trees, coming to crash down on us. It was unbelievable.” 

On Phi Phi island, about 40km from Phuket, Christian Patauraux said he saw many dead and injured after huge waves “flattened” the tiny island made famous in Leonardo DiCaprio's 2000 film The Beach

“I am OK. Many dead people everywhere. I cannot call because the network is saturated,” the Belgian tourist said in a text message to his anxious girlfriend in Singapore. 

Thailand's ITV television said tourists staying at one five-star hotel on Phi Phi were forced onto the roof to escape the swirling waters. 

It said helicopters were ferrying food and water to survivors on the Similan and Surin islands, off the coast of Phang Nga province. 

Christmas and New Year holidays are peak holiday seasons in southern Thailand and particularly in Phuket, which sees hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors each year. – Reuters  

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