When the raging ocean waters subsided, 7-year-old Karl Nilsson from Sweden thought he had been transported to another city. He was still in the same place, but his parents and...
PHUKET, Thailand — When the raging ocean waters subsided, 7-year-old Karl Nilsson from Sweden thought he had been transported to another city. He was still in the same place, but his parents and two brothers, with him moments earlier, had vanished.
Karl now is being cared for in Phuket by a Swedish family and hoping his relatives are not among the more than 1,500 people killed when a tsunami overwhelmed this tropical paradise Sunday, pushed by an earthquake hundreds of miles away under the Indian Ocean.
Exact figures are not available, but anecdotal evidence suggests that many vacationing foreign families who came for a holiday getaway on Thailand’s famed beaches have been broken apart forever.
Dr. Marie Gulbstrand from Stockholm, Sweden, said her family found Karl at a shelter. He told her he was in a hotel with his two brothers early Sunday while his parents, Thomas and Asa, were outdoors.
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A torrent of water suddenly surged into the room.
“He told me: ‘I was under the water, but somehow I could breathe. I was just closing my eyes and moving with the waves. Then, suddenly the flood ended and I was in another city,’ ” Gulbstrand said.
Unable to find his family, Karl wandered alone until he was helped by some local residents. A Swedish couple took him to a Buddhist temple, one of many on the island serving as temporary shelters.
“The initial response has been focused on search-and-rescue operations and now, obviously, we need to extend beyond that and look at the needs of those who have survived,” said Shantha Bloemen, a communication officer for the U.N. children’s agency in Bangkok.
“This issue of children being left orphaned, or even just basically misplaced … is going to be huge, because they obviously have no form of identification.”
Confronted with that problem, staff at Phuket International Hospital posted a picture of a blond-haired, 2-year-old boy on the Internet. He had been found along a roadside after the resort of Khao Lak was torn apart, his face reddened by mosquito bites.
All hospital staff could determine was that the boy appeared to respond to Swedish. The posting drew dozens of foreign parents to the hospital, not all of them Swedes, desperately hoping to find missing children.
Little Hannes Bergstroem, of Goteborg, Sweden, was one of the lucky ones: His uncle, whom hospital staff would identify only as Jim, arrived yesterday and collected the boy after seeing his picture on the Web.
“This is a miracle, the biggest thing that could happen,” Jim said.
The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported that the boy’s mother and grandmother were missing, but later media reports said he was reunited with his grandmother. His father and grandfather were believed to be at another hospital in Thailand, but their exact location and conditions were not immediately known.
Bloemen said the United Nations was planning to send a team today to determine the survivors’ needs.
“The tragedy is going to be twofold,” she said. “There’s going to be foreign nationals that are in this situation because a lot of people were on family holidays and then, of course, for the Thai communities in these areas as well.”
Rose Ehret, a Singaporean who arrived in Bangkok from the southern resorts, was helping French victims. She said she was caring both for children who lost parents and for parents who lost children — and she needed counselors to help them all cope.
The Bergman brothers, 3-year-old Nils and 18-month-old Hannes, survived the disaster in Khao Lak and made it to neighboring Phuket with their father, Carl Michael. But their mother, Cecilia, remained missing.
Hannes Bergman was found unconscious by a tourist near a Khao Lak swimming pool and reportedly was taken by a Thai princess — his father was not told which one — to a local hospital by helicopter.
The broken family was spending time in the Phuket Island Pavilion hotel with other Swedes last night, handing out fliers with pictures of Cecilia. The father said Nils asks whether they will find his mother and Hannes cries out: “Mama! Mama!” when he sees televised images of the waves blasting into the resorts.
Carl Michael Bergman still held hope his wife would be found, but he also had a message for the princess who saved his son: “She has saved his life, but also my soul because I couldn’t survive if I lost them both.”