On the morning of Dec. 26, Carl Farrington ’65 was on the beach enjoying a family vacation in Poda Island, Thailand, when, he said, “suddenly, the ocean just went vertical.”
Three waves hit about 10 minutes apart, Farrington said, each coming from a different direction.
“Literally I looked up and there was a wall of water, probably 20 or 30 feet high,” he said. “My wife and I just ran and headed to the interior of the island.”
He and his family narrowly escaped the tsunami’s deadly pull. He considers himself lucky to have survived.
“If you had been in water snorkeling or swimming, you would have been swept away,” Farrington said. “You could not have gotten to the shore fast enough.”
Farrington witnessed a disastrous aftereffect of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The earthquake spawned tsunamis that struck coasts across South Asia, killing more than 156,000.
The earthquake, which occurred just before 8 a.m. Dec. 26, was so powerful it physically moved everyone on earth about a centimeter, Yale geology professor Jeffrey Park said. But one of the largest natural disasters in recent memory moved people much more than that, as the shock waves of pain and mourning spread across borders. Yale’s international community includes a number of students from the affected South Asian countries, as well as other students and alumni like Farrington who were visiting the countries at the time of the tsunamis. Community members are planning relief efforts as the campus, and the world, deals with the disaster’s magnitude.
Last week, Yale President Richard Levin was in India traveling with a University delegation to promote Yale’s image in the region days after the tsunamis struck. He said many in the country are shocked, even in places not directly affected by tsunamis.
“We didn’t go anywhere near the affected area, but that’s the thing about globalization,” he said. “The television pictures we saw in India and those you saw at home are the same.”
Nilakshi Parndigamage ’06 did not go home to Sri Lanka for winter break and said she has found it extremely hard to watch the television footage of the destruction from the United States.
“Being here made it so frustrating and tough,” she said. “I was going to go crazy just sitting here and not being able to do anything.”
Instead of letting her frustrations grow, Parndigamage took action. She is coordinating “Tsunami Relief Effort — Sri Lanka,” a campus group working to raise money for Sri Lankan children orphaned by the tsunamis. Parndigamage will personally see to the transference of the funds when she travels to Sri Lanka at the end of January.
“In the aftermath of the disaster we had so many friends e-mailing me and the other Sri Lankans at Yale asking how they could help,” Parndigamage said. “The response we got from everyone was just so great that we decided to make it a movement.”
The three-week donation drive, in which several campus organizations will help, will begin today. The Yale Student Activities Committee will kick off its winter arts festival Jan. 22 with a benefit concert in Battell Chapel and will donate proceeds to the relief cause.
While her group will only focus on raising money for Sri Lanka, Parndigamage said she expects there will be fundraisers for other countries.
“We will be happy to coordinate other events if it gets to that point,” she said. “But the extent of this disaster is crazy, so we can’t think of going beyond one country right now.”
Levin encouraged Yale students to get involved in relief efforts.
“I think everyone wants to participate in some way,” he said. “Everyone feels compassion and sympathy. Student-organized fundraisers are a great way to go.”
Over winter break, Yale students in South Asia felt the effects of the disaster. In New Delhi, India, Arvind Bhaskar ’07 was focused on contacting his friends and relatives in Chennai [Madras], one of the areas affected by tsunamis, Bhaskar said in an e-mail last week.
“Fortunately, they were all safe and well,” he said. “However, I heard truly tragic stories from them of entire communities that had been washed away.”
While overwhelmed by the tragedy, Bhaskar said his community is trying to focus on helping victims of the tsunamis.
“The general opinion is that as a community, we need to avoid being paralyzed by grief and rapidly bring relief and aid to those affected by the disaster,” he said.
Vivek Kasinath ’06, also in India when the disaster occurred, said tragedy was all around him on his vacation.
“Every day, there are harrowing images that keep coming in from disaster areas,” he wrote in an e-mail Friday. “A lot of people cancelled their celebrations for New Year’s Day, and many tried to find trains to the affected areas so they could help with the relief. A lot of people in South India have lost family and friends to the tragedy, so especially for a few days after the disaster, people were just trying to cope with their losses.”
Farrington was one of those visitors who chose to volunteer after the tsunamis. He worked at Krabi Hospital in Thailand, where he said he saw the grave results of the disaster. The 300-bed hospital was caring for 1,200 people, he said.
India, Kasinath said, has been left in a state of fear and apprehension.
“I vacationed in Goa, a state on the western coast, for a few days, and a lot of people told me not to go into the water, even though it was quite safe,” Kasinath said. “Basically, there is a lot of fear that another tsunami may strike, because the last one came without any warning. It will probably take many years for that fear to subside here.”
Kasinath criticized the Bush administration’s first response to the tragedy.
“The initial package of $15 million was a joke, but I think Bush realized that,” he said.
By staying on his ranch in Crawford, Texas during the initial aftermath of the tragedy, the president reinforced anti-American sentiment in India by sending a message of isolationism, Kasinath said.
Bhaskar, however, commended the administration’s response.
“Despite the criticism in the media of the extent of aid offered by the Bush administration, I believe that the relief assistance offered is generous and timely,” he said.
— Staff reporter Yassmin Sadeghi contributed to this report.