A LISBURN couple who were in the Maldives when the tsunami struck their tiny tropical island have spoken of the nightmare ending to their paradise holiday. Lindita and Andrew Sullivan from the Old Hillsborough Road were on the last day of their holiday when the killer wave struck the island of Vilavaro.
Like most of the other 1,200 Maldive islands it was spared the huge loss of life suffered elsewhere, but the damage to the island has been extensive.
On the fateful morning of December 26 the couple were relaxing on the beach at around 9.30am, waiting to go snorkelling as they had done each morning during their stay.
Lindita (26) was reading while her husband was sunbathing when
they noticed the water move violently.
Almost immediately two huge waves covered the beach.
The couple, who had been holidaying on the island since December 12, initially ran for safety towards a nearby football pitch.
They later went to the reception at their complex to find out what had been happening. The first indication of what they had experienced was from locals who said they had been hit by a tsunami.
The couple managed to get belongings, passport and money from their beach bungalow, which was now submerged in water, and stayed in the reception area until they could leave the following day.
There they watched in disbelief as news came in of what had been happening.
Gradually the area filled up as over 100 people from elsewhere in the island sought shelter from the damage.
Lindita and Andrew had to sleep in the restaurant of the complex until the following day when they were able to leave for home.
"We knew that there was something wrong when we were on the beach and the water around us started to move violently," Lindita recalled. "We were all very scared.
"There were huge waves which completely covered the coral reefs. It was something like you would see in the movies."
Two people on a nearby island died while other islanders who had their homes and land destroyed sought refuge on Vilaviro.
"We were all pretty afraid and I was a bit upset because we were trapped on the island," Lindita, who is originally from Kosovo, said. "There was really no way out and everyone was afraid of another tsunami."
A family from England who were also staving in one of the beach bungalows were initially missing for ten minutes after the wave struck.
There was huge relief when they were found on the roof of one of the beach bungalows. The father discovered his wife and children had scrambled onto the roof for safety.
"I feel we were all very lucky" Lindita said. "Had the tsunami struck an hour later we may not have survived as we were due to go snorkelling.
"I feel someone had been watching over us. I was in tears when it happened because I thought we were all going to die."
The next day the couple got a boat to Mele, the capital of the islands, to fly home.
"There was a lot of panic at the airport and everyone just wanted to get home," said Lindita "There were so many planes coming into the airport to evacuate people that our flight was delayed for seven hours."
After what had happened Lindita is reluctant to return to an island destination.
"The place was lovely and the holiday was great until then," she said. "It was such a beautiful place, just like paradise. But at the moment I do not want to go onto an island for a very, very long time no matter how lovely it is."
The couple got home last Tuesday and since her return Lindita has been closely following news of the tsunami crisis and how it affected other countries.
"I just could not believe just how lucky we were when I saw what had happened," she said. "There were so many people who have lost their lives and have lost their livelihood. It is very emotional to see just how bad it was." Lindita said she has been deeply touched by the generosity of people donating to the many Tsunami Appeals.
"I am a still a bit numb from the ordeal and I know that we were some of the lucky ones.
"It is certainly a holiday I will never forget."