Party Saved Many Israelis From Disaster

It's hard to believe the Israeli Foreign Ministry would praise any form of rave party, but that is exactly what happened after yesterday's huge earthquake in Indonesia.

PHUKET, Thailand - It's hard to believe the Israeli Foreign Ministry would praise any form of rave party, but that is exactly what happened after yesterday's huge earthquake in Indonesia. Israel's consul in Bangkok, Yaakov Dvir, said the number of Israelis hurt by the tsunami on Koh Phi Phi island was low because most Israeli vacationers went to the big "Full Moon" bash on Koh Phangan island.

At press time, it was still not clear how many Israelis have been hospitalized in Phuket.

The modern Bangkok hospital has no more free beds for the injured, as all the visitors' benches have been turned into beds and children are lying on towels in hallways. A food-distribution stand has been placed in a corner instead of the meals being distributed as usual to patients.

Shabtai Majer, 65, of Tel Aviv, was moderately injured and is in the hospital after coming to Thailand to celebrate his 45th wedding anniversary with his wife Sara. Yesterday morning, the couple set out to visit the small island of Phithi.

"Shortly after the boat landed, I saw that the sea was just disappearing and I told my wife something was wrong and that we needed to run," Majer said. "We ran to a small, three-story hotel near the beach. I opened the door and we both went in. I thought we were safe. But then there was a terrible boom and a huge wave washed over us. The walls collapsed and I was buried under water. I was saved only by an air pocket there."

Asked about his wife's fate, Majer's lips tremble. "I think she's gone," adding: "We took out a loan to go on this trip."

An hour later, and 14 hours after the event, Majer learned that his wife survived and is hospitalized in another hospital.

The staff of the hospital where Majer is has organized lists of the injured, according to country of origin. During his visit there, Israeli consul Dvir saw Israeli Yaron Weiss, 28. A Kfar Vradim resident, Weiss and his wife Lilach arrived in Phuket after a long trip in New Zealand. After breakfast yesterday morning, they decided to return to their hotel to pay their bill. Weiss says this decision saved his life: "It was like in the movies. We saw the water approaching and hoisting huge objects. We escaped into a bar where we climbed onto the tables. The water reached our legs. After the water receded, we started back to the hotel and then the second wave came. It carried us both down the street along with cars, scaffolding and heaven knows what. My legs were injured, but I didn't feel anything because I was sure Lilach drowned and I could think only about that. A Thai dragged me onto a roof. I started screaming `Lilach, Lilach, and then I heard her answer me."

Weiss and his wife got separated during their evacuation, and he doesn't know how seriously she was injured, but is happy knowing she is alive.

The next hospital looks far less modern. There are improvised beds and stretchers at the entrance to receive the injured and at 2 A.M., ambulances are bringing in helicopter evacuees from the area. There is a huge bulletin board with the names of hundreds of injured patients. Dozens of family members gather around them.

In the wards the crowding is great - sometimes more than 30 patients per hall. Dvir receives a list of Israelis from the hospital staff, and one approaches them in the hall: Esther Ilam. She and her husband Moshe were on Phi Phi Island when the waves hit. Moshe's leg was slightly to moderately injured, but he was unable to walk and Esther and other Israelis carried him to safety.

"I can't swim," he says. "The wave washed me out to sea holding onto a closet door. I have no idea how I survived."

His wife, like many other Israelis, adds that she is worried that it will be very difficult to return to Israel after all their papers and belongings have been washed away.