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Spotsylvania family was in Thailand when tsunami hit
Spotsylvania family was in Thailand when tsunami hit

Date published: 1/11/2005


On the morning of Dec. 26, the water level in the ponds of a northeast Thailand village dropped several feet.

The villagers were startled. This was unusual. It must mean something.

Spotsylvania County resident Ann Supanklang was visiting Phimai, a land settlement on the Khorat Province.

Ann had worked there while in the Peace Corps from 1994 to 1996. It's also the place she met and married husband Chai. They have a daughter, 2-year-old Saijai.

When the water levels dipped, and then rose a few minutes later, the villagers were abuzz.

"It was pretty eerie," Ann recalled. But she shrugged it off. The people of Phimai, a farming community reached only by dusty roads, tend to be superstitious.

When Chai's father came in from working in the fields a few hours later, he said there had been an earthquake. The Supanklangs flipped on the television and learned of the powerful tsunamis it spawned.

Later, they would see the images--huge walls of water ravaging shorelines across South Asia.

Thousands were dead. Thousands more were missing.

A swath of Thailand's coastline had been devastated.

And the tsunamis were particularly ill-timed, striking on a picturesque morning at the height of the tourist season. Thousands strolled and sunned on the resort island of Phuket and nearby Phang Nga that day after Christmas.

When Ann and Chai saw the walls of water inundate Phuket and wash through hotels, they shuddered.

They could have been there. They had planned to be there.

"We always go to Phuket," Ann said.

"That's where we learned to scuba dive. It's just beautiful there we hadn't been scuba diving in so long. Saijai loves the beach. She loves the sand."

But Saijai didn't feel well that day. A week into their visit, the 2-year-old was struggling to adjust to a new climate and a 12-hour time difference.

"We probably would be dead if we had been there," Chai said.

It was chance, or fate perhaps, that kept them away from the tsunamis' impact that morning.

The trip

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, Ann built tree nurseries and taught English on a land settlement, which she compares to an American Indian reservation. Chai owned an electronics repair business.

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