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Heroes and Villains

The Tsunami disaster and subsequent related events have shown both the good and dark sides of human nature.


On the good side, the disaster has produced some unlikely heroes. For instance, we have wanted criminals:

An Australian hailed as a hero for allegedly rescuing more than a dozen tsunami victims in Thailand was arrested Monday as he returned home by police who recognized him as a suspected burglar.

Thomas David Connell was handcuffed and arrested by Queensland state police after he stepped off the plane at Brisbane International Airport.


Police said they recognized Connell, whom they had been seeking for two years, after he gave a television interview from Thailand that aired in Australia last week. The said he is wanted on assault and burglary charges.


The 32-year-old businessman was dubbed by local media as “the good samaritan of Patong Beach” for his role in allegedly saving as many as 20 people during the Dec. 26 tsunami that smashed over the island resort of Phuket.


Connell appeared in Brisbane Magistrate’s Court late Monday and was granted bail until his next court appearance in February.


Connell said he spent most of the day in a holding cell suffering flashbacks of his ordeal, and that police had mistaken him for someone else.


“To be a life saver, saving 20 people, and then come back to my home country and I’m going straight into a bloody jail cell with hoodlums all day,” Connell told Channel 10 television network. “I’m not a bloody hoodlum.”

A school girl who paid attention in class:

A 10-year-old British girl saved 100 other tourists from the Asian tsunami having warned them a giant mass of water was on its way after learning about the phenomenon weeks earlier at school. 


“I was on the beach and the water started to go funny,” Tilly Smith told the Sun at the weekend from Phuket, Thailand.


“There were bubbles and the tide went out all of a sudden. I recognised what was happening and had a feeling there was going to be a tsunami. I told mummy.”


While other holidaymakers stood and stared as the disappearing waters left boats and fish stranded on the sands, Tilly recognised the danger signs because she had done a school project on giant waves caused by underwater earthquakes.


Quick action by Tilly’s mother and Thai hotel staff meant Maikhao beach was quickly cleared, just minutes before a huge wave crashed ashore. The beach was one of the few on the Thai island of Phuket where no-one was killed.

Former Cambodian king Norodom Sihanouk says an astrologer warned him that an “ultra-catastrophic cataclysm” would strike, but that his country would be spared if proper rituals were conducted.


“My wife and I decided to spend several thousand dollars to organize these ceremonies so our country and our people could be spared such a catastrophe,” Sihanouk, who abdicated last year, wrote on his Web site at


Cambodia was unscathed by the 30-foot tsunami waves generated by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake under the sea off Indonesia’s Sumatra island on Dec.26.

Celebrities. Like rock group Linkin Park:

With memories of a successful summer tour in Southeast Asia still fresh in their minds, the members of Linkin Park are spearheading an effort to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami that have devastated the region.


The Los Angeles-based rock act has set up an organization called Music for Relief ( with an initial donation of $100,000.

$100,000 is not to be sneezed at. Unless you are Sandra Bullock.

Sandra Bullock, the Speed and Miss Congeniality actress, has donated $1 million to the American Red Cross appeal to support relief efforts in countries affected by the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.


Bullock contacted the American Red Cross last week, the organization said today.


At this critical time, I am grateful to Sandra Bullock for once again demonstrating her leadership, compassion and belief in our global humanitarian mission,” said American Red Cross president and chief executive officer Marsha Evans in a statement.


“Sandra continues to enable our lifesaving work and is a model for personal generosity.”


It’s not the first time for her to give large donations. She also donated $1 million following the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001.


Even the animal kingdom has gotten in on the act. Take these elephants, for instance:

Agitated elephants felt the tsunami coming, and their sensitivity saved about a dozen foreign tourists from the fate of thousands killed by the giant waves.


“I was surprised because the elephants had never cried before,” mahout Dang Salangam said on Sunday on Khao Lak beach at the eight-elephant business offering rides to tourists.


The elephants started trumpeting — in a way Dang, 36, and his wife Kulada, 24, said could only be described as crying — at first light, about the time an earthquake measured at a magnitude of 9.0 cracked open the sea bed off Indonesia’s Sumatra island.


The elephants soon calmed down. But they started wailing again about an hour later and this time they could not be comforted despite their mahouts’ attempts at reassurance.


“The elephants didn’t believe the mahouts. They just kept running for the hill,” said Wit Aniwat, 24, who takes the money from tourists and helps them on to the back of elephants from a sturdy wooden platform.


Those with tourists aboard headed for the jungle-clad hill behind the resort beach where at least 3,800 people, more than half of them foreigners, would soon be killed. The elephants that were not working broke their hefty chains.


“Then we saw the big wave coming and we started running,” Wit said.


Around a dozen tourists were also running toward the hill from the Khao Lak Merlin Resort, one of a line of hotels strung along the 10 km (6-mile) beach especially popular with Scandinavians and Germans.


“The mahouts managed to turn the elephants to lift the tourists onto their backs,” Kulada said.


She used her hands to describe how the huge beasts used their trunks to pluck the foreigners from the ground and deposit them on their backs.


The elephants charged up the hill through the jungle, then stopped.


The tsunami drove up to 1 km (1,000 yards) inshore from the gently sloping beach which had been so safe for children it made Khao Lak an ideal place for a family holiday. But it stopped short of where the elephants stood.


On Sunday, the elephants were back at work giving rides to the tourists on whom the area depends.

And let’s not forget the family dog:

The morning of December 26 began like most others, with sunny skies and a cool breeze.


Sangeeta’s husband, R. Ramakrishnan, had just returned from his early morning fishing with a boat full of fish.


From their home, the view of the ocean was obstructed by a two-story community center. So when they heard a strange noise coming from the sea, Sangeeta’s husband went to investigate.


When Ramakrishnan saw the waves, he ran to the roof of the center and shouted down to Sangeeta to flee. That’s when she made her agonizing choice.


“He is somewhat older than the other two. I knew he would be able to run, so I grabbed the other two,” Sangeeta explained.


Dinakaran credits the dog with saving his life.


“That dog grabbed me by the collar of my shirt,” the boy said from under some trees at Pondicherry University, where the family is waiting for relief. “He dragged me out.”


Sangeeta said she wept with joy when she saw her son walking up to her, with Selvakumar by his side.

Unfortunately, there are those who use the disaster to pursue their own sinister ends:

A Swedish boy injured in the tsunami may have been abducted from a hospital in Thailand.


Swedish and Thai police were co-operating to find 12-year-old Kristian Walker, Sweden’s Expressen newspaper reported.


“Kristian was here in the hospital. He was taken away by a man,” a hospital doctor, Kampongsree Somprutthana, reportedly told the paper.


Kristian’s father, Dan Walker, and his grandfather, Daniel Walker, found several witnesses who recognised the boy, who vanished from the hospital, 30 kilometres from Khao Lak, one of Thailand’s worst-hit resorts.


The man he may have left with was described as “European-looking, with a moustache and a red shirt”.


Two Swedish police officers were on their way to Thailand to help find Kristian, Expressen reported, quoting police sources.


The report came a day after the Swedish branch of Save the Children warned that children who ended up alone after the disaster could become targets for sexual abuse by pedophiles.


“The experience from other catastrophes is that children are particularly vulnerable,” said the managing director of Raedda Barnen, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.


There were already indications that surviving children had been sexually abused in Sri Lanka, Ms Petri Gornitzka said.


Officials in Indonesia said they had launched an investigation into the unconfirmed reports of trafficking in orphaned children from the disaster.

And what was this guy thinking?

A British man admitted Monday to sending hoax emails to friends and relatives of people missing since the Asian tsunami.  

Christopher Pierson pleaded guilty to sending more than 30 emails to worried relatives, saying their loved ones had been confirmed dead, after they posted their details on the Web Site of TV station Sky News.


Pierson, 37, from Ruskington in Lincolnshire, eastern England, was to be detained until January 24, an official at London’s Horseferry Road Magistrates Court said.


Pierson pleaded guilty to charges of malicious communication and causing a public nuisance after police seized computer equipment at the weekend.


Pierson is accused of posing as a British official from the “Foreign Office Bureau” in Thailand in his emails. All the messages came from one bogus email address, [email protected].


Sky News said it was “disgusted” that its Web site had been abused and contacted police as soon as it found out.

Update: This is also disgusting (hat tip: Damian Penny).

The Tsunami disaster and subsequent related events have shown both the good and dark sides of human nature.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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