Many traumatized after Asia megaquake

Updated: December 27, 2004, 5:12 PM ET
Associated Press

Skiing great Ingemar Stenmark was sunbathing on a beach in Thailand when he saw an immense wave roaring to shore. He began running for his life.

Tsunami damage
APA sport utility vehicle is wrapped up in power lines Monday on Patong Beach in Thailand.

"The water from the first wave disappeared, but then it came back with terrifying speed," Stenmark told Swedish media.

Stenmark, a Swede who won two gold medals at the 1980 Olympics and 86 World Cup races, was with friends in Khok Kloi, about 30 miles from Phuket, the popular tourist spot. He and girlfriend Christina Sylvan were not injured. Sylvan's father, Bo, was hurt but not seriously.

Stenmark was among a number of athletes and sports figures on vacation in Southern Asia when earthquake-driven tsunamis swept the region. The most powerful quake in the world in four decades has killed more than 22,000 people in 10 countries. Thousands are missing, and the death toll is expected to climb far higher.

Soccer's governing body said Monday that all flags at its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, were being flown at half staff. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, acknowledging "untold grief and bereavement," sent letters to the presidents of the soccer federations of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, Maldives, Malaysia and Myanmar.

The bungalow of former Austrian tennis star Thomas Muster was hit in the Maldives, but he was unhurt. Zinedine Zidane, the French soccer star for Real Madrid, was vacationing on Reunion Island off Madagascar, one of the lesser-hit islands, the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport said.

Gaute Larsen, assistant coach of the Norwegian elite division soccer team Odd Grenland, was caught by a wave in Phuket.

"That was a near-death experience and very dramatic," he told Norway's largest newspaper, Verdens Gang, "We were lucky."

Larsen, his family and another Norwegian couple were about to leave on a boat trip when the water suddenly began to rise.

"We were washed away for 300, 400 meters until we ended up in the town center and swam in to a ledge," he said. "We saw cars being slammed into walls and people being carried away by the currents. I don't know how many of those we saw survived."

With European soccer in its winter break, many players had headed to resorts in warmer climates. No soccer players were reported injured.

Several Italian soccer players in the Maldives were trying to make their way home Monday. AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi sent a text message from his cell phone to Gazzetta dello Sport saying he was "isolated but OK for now," adding he was without lights and water.

We were washed away for 300, 400 meters ... . We saw cars being slammed into walls and people being carried away by the currents. I don't know how many of those we saw survived.
Soccer coach Gaute Larsen

Milan captain Paolo Maldini and Juventus defender Gianluca Zambrotta managed to fly back to Italy together, arriving early Monday. Two other Milan players, Alessandro Nesta and Cristian Brocchi, also were in the Maldives, the club's Web site reported.

Emre Asik, a defender with the Turkish team Besiktas, was vacationing in the Maldives with his girlfriend. Asik's girlfriend, Aysun Kayaci, a model, said she and the Turkish soccer star were in their bungalow built on stilts when they heard a powerful noise and saw water surging into the room.

"In no time, the water rose, it destroyed our veranda and balcony, and nearly reached our necks," she told CNN-Turk television by telephone.

Asik said that they had been evacuated to another island -- three hours away -- by ferry and that Besiktas was sending a private plane to fly them back to Turkey.

Bayern Munich's Hasan Salihamidzic also was in the Maldives and escaped unharmed. The club's Web site said he was expected to fly out with his family Monday.

A one-day cricket match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand scheduled for Wednesday in Napier, New Zealand, was postponed until Jan. 11. New Zealand cricket authorities want to allow Sri Lanka a five-day period of national mourning.

The Chennai Open, a tennis tournament in Chennai, India, along the country's southeast coast, will be held as scheduled starting Jan. 3, ATP spokeswoman Erika Kegler said.

The first leg of the Indonesia-Malaysia semifinal in soccer's Tiger Cup, Southeast Asia's nations championship, remains set for Tuesday night in Jakarta.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press