Tsunami heroes

Published December 31, 2004 6:32PM (EST)

Surfacing from the deluge of news reports about the devastation of coastal Thailand fishing towns, political sniping at the amount of aid pledged by the United States, and frustrated Western seismologists staring at flashing instruments without the phone numbers of anybody in Sumatra, one realizes that only certain details of the tragedy seem to linger -- all of them being small, individual acts of heroism.

Most notably (reported by John Lancaster in the Washington Post) is pastor Dayalan Sanders, who ran an orphanage in the Sri Lankan village of Navalady. When giant waves swamped the orphanage, he herded 28 kids into a motorboat and sped them across a tempestuous lagoon to safety. Answering the call in underprivileged Indian Ocean countries has also been caregivers like South Africa's Dr. Glenn Staples, Medical Director of Netcare 911, who scoured Thai hospitals in search of his countrymen and countrywomen. And not incidentally, said one member of Staples' team, Phuket hospitals were "organized and efficient" despite the huge influx of patients.

Then there was a British policeman, Ned Kelly, who grabbed a seven-year-old Japanese girl out the rushing torrent on the island of Phi Phi. Or how about the British car salesmen who was whisked out to sea in the Maldives, where he was rescued by a Pakistani warship?

While on the subject of ships, perhaps we could forget David Foster Wallace for a moment and think generously about the Ocean Princess cruise liner that evacuated more than 300 people from the island of Surin Neua, including British diver Ian Colledge. In his online diary for CNN, Colledge notes that along with the cruise-liner crew, the heroes were local helmsmen in long-tail boats, who during the panic "were noisily battling the current at full throttle, turning into the waves yet still maneuvering to pick up" people scattered throughout the sea.

Finally, if you've seen Sebastiao Salgado's majestically heartbreaking photos of men, women, and children -- migrants and refugees -- displaced by war and famine in poor countries around the world, you can begin to imagine the formidable challenge facing veteran relief workers at Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross, Oxfam International, and all the rest. Or maybe we can't imagine it, as more than three million people now have nowhere to call home. Want to help? You can start here.

By Kevin Berger

Kevin Berger is the former features editor at Salon.

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