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Spring 2005 | Volume 28, Number 1 | Features

Lost and Found

Emily Drury and her 18-year-old sister, Alice Drury, woke up early on the morning of December 26, 2004. After all, who wants to sleep late when you’re in Thailand? Emily, a Seattle Pacific University graduate and kindergarten teacher at an international school in Shanghai, China, was thrilled that her parents and sister had been able to join her at the Briza Beach Resort in Phuket for the Christmas holiday.

Despite being caught in the tsunami, Emily Drury says the experience hasn’t changed her love of the ocean. Here, Drury and her mother, father, and sister spend time along the shores of the Puget Sound, not far from their Tacoma, Washington, home.

Emily and Alice put on their swimsuits and sarongs and set off for a long walk along the white-sand beach in front of their hotel. “Let’s go snorkeling,”
Alice said to her sister. The pair turned back to the hotel to rent masks and fins. But when they reached the open-air lobby, something caught Emily’s eye.

“Alice, look,” Emily said to her sister. “American magazines!” It had been months since Emily had soaked up a good fashion glossy. She grabbed a copy of Harpers Bazaar before sinking into a rattan chair next to Alice.

Before she could reach page 10, Emily looked up. Suddenly people were screaming and running frantically from the beach. “What’s happening?” Alice cried out. Then they heard a noise that sounded like the rumbling of a jet engine. The sisters instinctively got up and followed the crowd.

When they turned around, they saw a wall of water pouring into the hotel lobby — the sheer force cracking the building’s wooden beams like twigs. “We have to hold on to each other!” Emily screamed to her sister. A few seconds later, the wave knocked Emily off her feet. She could feel her sister’s hand slipping out of her grip. “Alice!” she shouted. But her sister was gone.

The water covered Emily’s head. She opened her eyes underwater and watched as a small forest of bamboo logs floated over her. I know this body can die, she thought. But she wasn’t about to give in just yet. Finding her strength, she pushed the logs aside, and gasped for air.

Emily spotted a Thai man on a truck that was suspended in the water, and she climbed aboard. But the truck was in danger of sinking, so Emily quickly grabbed hold of a tree. She could see large masses of glass and wood moving through the water with great force toward her. If I don’t pull myself up this tree, I’m going to lose my legs, she thought.

From the tree, Emily saw the hotel in the distance. The water had reached the building’s second story, and she knew her parents were on the third story. “They’re alive,” she muttered to herself.

But then she saw a body floating in the water below her. Her thoughts turned to Alice. Was she alive? Would she ever see her sister again? “Lord, I don’t know what’s happening,” Emily prayed. “But guide me to safety, and please let me see my family again.”

As she climbed down out of the tree, a small voice cried “Help!” It wasn’t Alice, but a 13-year-old girl. “What’s your name?” Emily asked. “Lilly,” said the girl in a muffled British accent. Her body was badly cut, and the wave’s wrath had left her without clothing from the waist down. Emily took an inventory of her own clothing, and amazingly her sarong was still intact.

“Here,” Emily said, offering Lilly the bottom half of her own swimsuit. She helped the teen pull the clothing over her trembling legs. “Hold my hand,” she told Lilly, and they began their journey to safety. The two clung to each other as they waded through debris, wreckage, and death. They were perfect strangers, but in that moment, they felt like family.

When they arrived at the main road, Lilly was put on a truck heading for a local hospital, and Emily was transported to another medical facility. Hours later, she sat among the injured at the hospital. She didn’t know it, but her father had heard that a young woman matching Emily’s description was spotted on the back of a floating truck. He spent hours breaking the windows of every truck in the area, looking for his daughter’s body.

By afternoon, he turned his attention to local hospitals, and his search led him to the hospital where Emily was waiting. “Dad!” she cried out. The two locked in an embrace that lasted for minutes.

“What about Alice?” Emily sobbed. “Is she OK? Have you heard from her?”

“Alice survived, ” her father replied. “The water rose to the second story, and someone in the hotel saw her floating near a window and pulled her inside the building. They saved her life.”

Meanwhile, Emily’s mother and sister were still searching for her. It seemed like a coincidence when Alice noticed a young girl wearing what looked like her sister’s swimsuit. “Excuse me,” said Alice, “have you seen my sister, Emily?” It was Lilly, and she explained about the swimsuit and how Emily had saved her life. The news brought Alice and her mom to their knees. “Thank you Lord,” they prayed. “Emily is safe.”

Fifty percent of the people in the family’s hotel died in the tsunami. Now back home in Tacoma, Washington, Emily still doesn’t know why she wasn’t one of them. “There’s a saying in China, that if you survive one disaster, you’ll have luck for life,” she says. “I’m not sure if that’s true, but I do know that I’m here for a reason, and I’m going to remember that every day for the rest of my life.”

Naam Khampee: A Father's Promise
Dick Frederick: The Healing Love of Christ
Sarah O'Banion: Beyond the Call of Duty


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