THE BLOG

Tsunami: Survivors' Stories

21/12/2014 21:14 | Updated 20 February 2015

Boxing Day 2004 was perfect. Warm, sunny and deliciously hot with the prospect of another beautiful day. It was a Boxing Day that oozed a tropical paradise; the picture perfect type that you see in holiday brochures with crystal white bleached sand, turquoise seas shimmering in the haze and elongated palm trees swaying in the warm breeze. It was a Boxing Day of such friendly culture; the local residents on this particular Thai island were so humble and charming you wished you could bottle it. It was a Boxing Day that offered the prospect of exploration and adventure. It was time to move on and slow it down a little. The last four days had been the sort that you cherish; close company, great fun, a competitive volleyball scene and above all, the chance to catch up with my brother. Piers - My elder brother and my only brother. My role model, in childhood and through early adulthood.

And then it changed. It is known that the brain has the ability to process many thoughts in a nano second and mine went into freeze frame mode when I first heard the screaming, but it didn't stop. It was louder than an isolated incident. The screaming intensified and was en mass just out in the street. It was was everywhere and we couldn't help but run. It was the panic. Not our panic, but the panic of those running around us. We must have looked like a swarm of ants, but without the order or the purpose.

The freeze frame mode switched to fast forward. We were moving, but at the mercy of the crowds dictated by the chaos. The screaming was everywhere...until we saw it."Water come, water come" shouted a local - and that is when it stopped. It was abrupt, instant - like we had changed channel on the TV - from a horror film to national geographic. The noise by now was chilling, metal screeching on metal, tree trunks snapping and splintering and the wind, howling like a scene from twister. The horizon looked different, it was boiling up, bubbling in front of us, getting bigger and heading right in our direction.

From the roof I surveyed the carnage. How did I get up here? What just happened? Why had the streets flowed like supercharged canals full of debris? Had the sea done it? Why was the sun still out, surely it should be raining? Where had the trees gone? Wow, the roof was really hot and littered with people in various states of dress and shock.

Time to assess: Sophie was safe and alive on the roof - check. Nick was on the roof - check. Uninjured, completely dry and still holding his bag. Ben was now safe - check. He had moved away from the pillar and got up onto the adjacent roof. I was OK - check. My thumb was cut and my flip flops were missing? I was dry. How did I get on this roof? Piers was... Where was Piers? - check. Piers didn't respond to our calling.

That's when the island fell silent. Boxing Day had changed. The search for Piers lasted five days. We finally found him on New Year's Eve - his body having been taken to a make-shift morgue at the Chinese Temple in Krabi. In many ways our search was made easier than the unenviable task that others had for we knew exactly where he was when it happened, we knew what he was wearing on that Boxing Day morning and I knew all of his personal details. We had some leads from our investigating - they generated false alarms but leads gave us hope and purpose.

The island of Koh Phi Phi, had taken a large hit by the tsunami and the town had taken the brunt of it. The layout of the island was to its detriment making it very vulnerable to the power of the wave that some say was seven metres high. That is what did the damage, by the time it reached us, mid town, the flow of debris was two metres deep and moving at a pace in the region of 30mph. It struck at 10.36am and by 10.39am, that tropical picture I painted at the start was utterly transformed. Manpower could never have transformed a place in the same way - this was a feat only Mother Nature could achieve. 1500 people are reputed to have died on Koh Phi Phi that day.

The incredible humanity displayed by the Thai people during our search for Piers prompted us to try and raise some money for them to try and give something back to the islanders who had lost everything. It was also would be a great way to honour Piers' life and create a legacy in his memory. Officially launched at P's memorial service to 700 people, my parents and I counted up £10,000 that evening and suddenly we were accountable!

The Piers Simon Appeal (PSA) was granted charitable status on 17 May 2005 and set up as a disaster relief charity and has financed regeneration work and aid supplies to 13 different countries. The PSA was the biggest donor to Koh Phi Phi, which makes us very proud.

Since 2009, the PSA has been running School in a Bag - an initiative that delivers rucksacks filled with stationery, learning resources and eating utensils to disadvantaged children around the world. To date, we have distributed over 48,000 SchoolBags to children in 22 countries and the initiative is growing which is just amazing to watch.

We know that we are only scratching the surface in our mission to give children the gift of hope through a SchoolBag. With 75million children around the world not able to go to school, we know that School in a Bag will continue to build the legacy of Piers for the rest of our lives.

I miss Piers. I hate the fact that my children don't have an uncle and I'm saddened by the fact that I will never be the uncle to his children. There are times when I would give anything just to be able to have a chat with him, but when times are low, I remind myself that our lives are incredibly rich compared with the children and communities that P's charity is supporting and that helps provide me with a sense of reality and gratitude for what we have. It's also true to say that the charity has been a brilliant deflection to the rawness of losing Piers. The organic growth has provided such a positive outcome, which has been a great form of therapy and over the last decade we have met many tsunami survivors and some of them are still living the tragedy every single day. I don't know how they cope; my family and I are so lucky that we can talk openly and freely about it without too much remorse and sadness.

In many ways the 10 year anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami has come around very quickly but it feels as surreal now as it did at 10.36am on Boxing Day 2004.

Luke Simon appears in Tsunami: Survivors' Stories on ITV, Monday at 9pm