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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 January, 2005, 14:40 GMT
Haunted tsunami survivors share stories
By Emma Griffiths
BBC News website

Sasha Pagella
Mr Pagella was hit by two waves but survived with cuts and bruises
A website offering support to tsunami survivors and relatives of victims has been created by the family of a British backpacker still missing on the Thai island of Phi Phi.

The family of 23-year-old Leanne Cox hopes it can bring some comfort to the traumatised survivors and bereaved by giving them a chance to tell their stories.

Among those who have found solace there is Sasha Pagella, 35, of Tooting, south London.

Mr Pagella is back at work now as a consultancy director.

But less than a month ago, he was on Miami Beach on the Malaysian island resort of Penang when the tsunami struck.

After being hit by two waves himself, he managed to pull two boys to safety and spent hours searching for injured or dead people.

But he remembers the little girl who slipped through his grasp and the woman who was sucked out into the sea as children begged him to go in to save her.

It's very surreal coming back to the UK and everything's normal
Sasha Pagella

Back in England, he is having trouble sleeping and feels like he is walking around in a daze.

He keeps wondering whether he could have done anything differently.

He says: "The logical side of me tells me I did what I could, but my emotional side - I can't switch that off."

"It's very surreal coming back to the UK and everything's normal.

"Sometimes you want to shout at people to say: 'This is going on'. Sometimes you wonder if you were even there."

Mr Pagella wanted to seek out other survivors' stories, because he felt they could best understand what he was going through.

Clearing up debris in Penang
Penang was hardest hit when the tsunami struck Malaysia
Now he is among contributors to the Tsunami Stories website, where he has written up his version of events from 26 December.

"I guess it's not for everyone, but since then someone else has added their story," he said.

"It's comforting being able to see that other people are going through this as well."

The site was set up by Leanne's father, Alan, as he waited for news of his daughter, who was on Phi Phi when the waves hit. Nearly a month later, she is still missing.

At first it was difficult to get through to the Foreign Office and the family was glued to news programmes and scanned Thai hospital sites looking for news.

They started reading the message boards and decided to set up their own site.

The site has received some local news coverage and the message board has been popular, but Mr Cox, of Hartlepool, Teesside, hopes people from the UK and across the world will contribute.

"I just thought it would be nice to have somewhere that people affected in some way by the disaster could go and tell a story and post some pictures," said Mr Cox.

Uncertainty

"If that would give some help and comfort to people it would be something worthwhile."

Traumatised British survivors and relatives are still calling the Red Cross on a hotline first used to help families following the 11 September attacks.

There have been 1,078 calls to the helpline so far, from people looking for support to those wanting to donate money or their services.

Your head is telling you one thing, and your heart tells you something else
Alan Cox

The most recent calls are from people who have been personally affected who are looking for support.

Director of UK Services Virginia Beardshaw said it was impossible to say how long it would be taking calls, because the families of many of the missing could not even be certain they were even in the area when the tsunami struck.

"Many people don't want to talk to friends and family.

"We're not providing counselling but we are providing a listening ear to people who have experienced a life-changing event in a moment," she said.

Back in Hartlepool, the Cox family is still waiting for news of Leanne.

"We haven't given up hope of a miracle but it's three-and-a-half weeks now - your head is telling you one thing and your heart is telling you something else," said Mr Cox.

"We're still in a state of shock really but we're taking each day as it comes."

To contact the Red Cross tsunami support line call 0845 054 7474.


SEE ALSO:
The grieving after the tsunami
12 Jan 05 |  Health
Trauma of Thai child survivors
09 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific


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