By EMMA CORNFORD
WHEN Grafton siblings Belinda, Andrew and Angela James heard island locals screaming just before 10am on Sunday, their first thought was a terrorist attack.
When the three ran from their beachside hut on the island of Ton Sai off Phuket in Thailand, instead of an explosion, they saw a 10-metre-high wall of white water racing towards the beach.
The trio managed to scramble to safety in hills behind the beach but lost almost all of their possessions as the powerful wave of water, triggered by an earthquake off Indonesia, decimated everything in its path.
The trio's father, Peter James, said his children contacted him and his wife soon after the disaster struck to let them know they were alive.
"They rang us shortly after it happened and said they had got out. They'd lost most of their belongings but had their lives," Mr James said.
"The long boats which had motors were able to power back just in front of the wave and get to the beach but they only had time to get to the beach, jump out of their boats and run but there were a number of people out sea kayaking at the time and they hadn't come back."
The group were on the tourist island for a holiday of rock climbing and relaxation but instead were caught in one of the worst international natural disasters.
"It's devastating for the people who live there because they depend on tourism and all that infrastructure, the shops and accommodation and everything was built right on the beach and it's all been totally destroyed. The stock, huts, shops and long boats ? everything's gone," Mr James said.
Although the Thai Government has ordered that the islands be evacuated, Mr James is not sure when his children will be able to get off Ton Sai because most boats on the island and in Phuket were destroyed by the tsunami.
Andrew, 20, told his father he wants to stay on the island to help the people rebuild their devastated village. His sisters, Angela, 23, and Belinda, 25, who was on her way to England and had decided to stop over in Thailand rather than face the northern winter, were unsure of their plans.
"We don't know what the transport to Phuket will be like for them or what supplies will be like for the island, (so) while we were very relieved to hear they were safe we'll be a lot happier when they're back on the mainland.
"I think everybody is sharing the grief of the disaster because it's something that really transcends national boundaries and cultures so they're all just doing what they can to help each other (and) they've been taken in by a Thai family and been given shelter."
The tsunami which hit the island where the James' are staying was just one of a band which struck the coasts of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives.
It was caused by the fifth largest earthquake ever recorded, which struck in the Indian Ocean off the Indonesian island of Sumatra and reached 8.9 on the Richter scale.
More than 12,600 were confirmed dead and thousands more missing and injured yesterday afternoon.
The Australian Federal Government yesterday approved an immediate allocation of $10million for emergency relief in countries affected by the tsunamis, to be directed through international relief such as the Red Cross and UN humanitarian agencies.
The hotline number for Australians wishing to check on friends and relatives in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives and Indonesia is 1800 002 214.