FEATURE: Life changed in the ‘blink of an eye’ says Huntingdon tsunami survivor

Keith Lambert.

Keith Lambert. - Credit: Archant

A decade ago the world awoke on the morning after Christmas Day to scenes of utter devastation as a tsunami ripped through communities in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India, killing more than 230,000. Huntingdon man Keith Lambert was on Phuket as the wave wiped out holiday resorts, seaside towns and villages. Ten years on, Mr Lambert writes about the profound effect it had on him and how he has struggled with “survivor syndrome”.

The tsunami devastation.

The tsunami devastation. - Credit: Archant

Ten years ago today, my life was changed forever – for others it was irrevocably destroyed.

For those who do not remember, or were too young to remember, Boxing Day 2004 saw one of the world’s largest natural disasters hit in a matter of hours. From Asia to Africa, life for many was rewritten in the blink of an eye.

I am not referring to a man-made event, but to the Asian Tsunami that struck Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, countless small islands throughout the Andaman seas, the Timor Seas and the Indian Ocean through to the shores of Africa.

I witnessed the devastation and destruction of Patong, Karon Beach and Kata Beach on the island of Phuket as well as the resort town of Khao Lak in Thailand, and for a period, set aside my life and worked alongside countless unsung heroes of all nationalities in the aftermath, all trying to do what could be done, unravelling chaos and destruction wrought by nature.

A task that I would wish upon no person, the sights that we witnessed will live with many of us until our dying days.

So, 10 years later, I feel it is right to reflect on what has taken place since 2004. I can speak only for myself, and perhaps those of you who read this, or who were there and tragically lost someone, or were just caught up in the chaos of it all, may be able to fully understand the emotional and psychological rollercoaster I have lived with over the initial years, and the on-going difficulties that even today haunt me.

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It is easier now to talk about it openly without breaking down or crying, though I find it very difficult to look at photographs, images or documentaries and films.

Initially coming back to the UK, I returned as a broken person, unable to settle, restless, volatile, my behaviour was unpredictable and at times my actions were reckless. Life felt like it had lost its meaning and no matter where I looked or what I did, there was no reason to keep on going.

I discovered this was both in part due to what is termed as “survivor guilt” and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), of which I was diagnosed nearly two years later as a result of a breakdown.

Counselling for it was limited and it was thanks to the help of family, loved ones and close friends I managed to start putting 2004/2005 behind me and move on with my life.

It has been no easy road and, at times, it has felt like one is climbing an icy mountain with nothing, but you learn to work on ways around the obstacles, to make a plan and overcome them, to start seeing reasons for making life good again.

It starts with small steps and in many ways is akin to learning to walk again, although this time, emotionally and mentally.

The first and hardest part was asking for help. I have discovered that although people may not have gone through or have seen what I went through, there are those who have a deep understanding of life and the sanctity of it. Through those I have been able to feel I can talk, unafraid of their reactions towards my fear and emotions.

Those are people who will remain nameless, but to them I am indebted in more ways than one.

So, where am I today as a person? I feel I am once again on the “up” and looking forward to seeing where life will take me next.

I have what I feel is a successful career in IT, I am a proud dad and godfather, I have made new friends, seen new countries and have started to appreciate the smaller, simpler things in life that we tend to take for granted.

I will be the first to admit that some things are still very much work in progress – and attachment is one, so until the right person comes along, it will still remain, work in progress.

But for now I am happier than I have been in a long time, the struggle has been hard, there has and there will still be challenges ahead, however I feel I have the strength and conviction to meet them and overcome them. I do not wish to turn this into a eulogy, as I feel that what I say may never be fitting, as each of us has a different way of looking at life and what it has given to us, and what we have carried with us since then.

There are things that I wish to forget, but then if I did, or you, or all of us did, then it would be dishonouring all the countless others and efforts of the people of the nations of the world who responded in the way they did but, most importantly the hundreds of thousands who died on that day.

To all who survived, and to all those who lost someone on that day, I would like to say, life goes on, they are looking over our shoulders when we least expect it and are willing us to complete the journey they never had a chance to finish, so let’s honour and remember them by doing just that – 10 years later.