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Volunteers injured in wreck after tsunami warning sounded

KHAO LAK, Thailand (BP)–Several disaster relief workers in Thailand -– including three from Alabama and three from Oklahoma — were injured around 2 a.m. July 25 when the two-ton truck in which they were riding was hit by another truck as residents fled a possible tsunami.

Alarms sounded along the west coast of Thailand after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit India’s southern Nicobar Islands around 1:30 a.m., prompting Thai officials to issue the warning for the region devastated by a December earthquake and tsunami.

The volunteers were in the midst of a two-week trip working together to help rebuild stilt homes and distribute food to victims of that December disaster. The truck the volunteers were riding in was spun around by the impact, and three men were ejected from the vehicle. All of the injured were treated at the Bankgok International Hospital in Phuket, about 90 minutes south of Khao Lok where the accident occurred.

The most seriously injured was Danny Ray (Dray) Williams of Alabama, who has a severe head injury, broken ribs and a broken collarbone. He initially was scheduled for surgery to relieve pressure and swelling on his brain, but doctors postponed surgery for at least a few days and placed Williams in intensive care because of a low platelet count.

Chris Elledge, pastor of The Vine in Norman, Okla., and leader of the Oklahoma contingent, also was thrown from the vehicle. He received several deep lacerations to the back of his head and to one leg. Doctors initially were concerned about Elledge being able to walk, because he landed on his hips, but X-rays revealed no broken bones.

“I actually got to speak with him about an hour after the accident happened,” said Elledge’s wife, Christina. “He said it’s a miracle he’s alive. He didn’t lose consciousness, but couldn’t move and he thought he was going to be killed by the spinning truck.

“He said, ‘I prayed for God to get me out of the way. The truck was spinning toward the side of the road where I was. I don’t know how I got out of the way. I think angels picked me up and moved me.’”

A nurse from Australia saw the accident, stopped and treated Elledge’s head wounds before he was transported to the hospital.

In addition to Williams, another man from Alabama suffered three broken ribs and a female volunteer had a compound fracture of the right radius for which she underwent successful surgery to repair. Two other Oklahomans were injured and were treated at the hospital for scrapes and cuts and released. Other relief workers had injuries that included severe cuts, a concussion and a broken ankle. The driver and a passenger in the vehicle which hit the truck carrying the disaster relief crews also were admitted to the hospital with unknown injuries.

Later in the day July 25 the rest of the volunteer team who were not involved in the accident continued their work and distributed food to displaced victims of the December tsunami staying in several villages outside Khao Lak. The accident had been on the national news, so the people receiving help knew of the tragedy and expressed deep appreciation for their presence and ministry, officials said.

All of the volunteers who were able to travel planned to return to the United States July 30.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake struck the Nicobar Islands about 85 miles west of Misha, Nicobar Islands, or about 275 miles northwest of Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, which is near the site of the December earthquake which triggered the deadly tsunami.

“No reports of damage or casualties have been received at this time; however, this earthquake may have caused damage due to its location and size,” the USGS cautioned. The Denver-based quake-monitoring survey said the quake was felt as far away as Chennai, India, and Phuket.

In a separate statement, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center noted that “earthquakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis that can be destructive along coasts located within a few hundred kilometers of the earthquake epicenter.”
Bob Nigh is managing editor of the Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

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