Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

For this family, relief travels from East to West

Tim Rice has been through his share of earthquakes.

So when his wife kicked him from his slumber on the morning of Dec. 26 and told him to stop shaking the bed, he barely responded.

"It's not me, it's the dog," the 50-year-old Tim said as he tried to go back to sleep.

The answer didn't satisfy Wendy Rice. She rose from the shaking bed, went to the third-story window of her home in Phuket, Thailand, and saw the water rushing through the streets.

Beach chairs, desks and freezers were floating. People were running.

+ + +

Donna Rice, 75, picked up the ringing phone at 7 a.m.

Like most nights, she'd had trouble sleeping anyway. Her Timber Greens subdivision in west Pasco was quiet, but sometimes things just jolt you awake for no reason.

"There's been an earthquake and a tidal wave where Timmy lives," the voice on the other end told her. Laura Jean Rice, the Rice's daughter in Wellsboro, Pa., had seen the TV news after working the late shift in the hospital emergency room where she's a doctor.

"Is Timmy okay?"

They hung up. Donna nudged her husband, Bill, to tell him the news. "She took it kind of hard," Bill remembered a few days later.

"My voice shook and my eyes watered. But by the time I got to the bathroom and said a little prayer. I was okay," said Donna.

The couple called their son together, each on a different phone.

+ + +

Tim Rice revels in adventure. He's a motorcyclist, a skydiver, a scuba diver and an ice diver. At 19, the Dearborn, Mich., native rode across Africa on a motorcycle with friends. In 1985, he moved to Taiwan to work as a manager for a motorcycle exporter. There, he endured a dozen earthquakes, about four of them strong enough to crumble walls. In 1987, he went to Thailand for a week's diving adventure. He had planned to move back to the United States afterward, but something about Thailand made him not want to leave.

He taught diving for several years in Pattaya, about two hours south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand, before he and his new wife, Wendy, a multilingual Thai native, decided to move south to Phuket and open an office supply and Internet servicing business.

Stationery and Stuff is located along Patong Beach, one street inland from the main beach road. It's not unusual for the Rices to look out the window and see streets running with water, especially in the rainy season, from about June to October.

But not to see them full of saltwater. And not on sunny mornings.

+ + +

Their call went right through. Donna and Bill exhaled.

Timmy, Wendy and their 15-year-old son, Pong, were alive and accounted for.

Tim had wonder in his voice. But, typical of him, he didn't sound afraid.

+ + +

People gathered outside that morning told Tim and Wendy about how the earth moved and the ocean rose up. Some ran up to the mountains and didn't come down for two or three days.

Not the Rices.

They were close to the destruction, but they didn't want to leave their business, located, like many Thai businesses, in the same building as their home.

Looting would be a problem for those who evacuated. Stationery and Stuff was unscathed. The power stayed on. Utilities, food and services were not hard to come by, Rice said. So he kept his business open. So did many of the businesses around him.

"Ninety-nine percent of the island is intact," Rice said by telephone this week.

The first 100 meters of the Patong beachfront was devastated, he would find out the next day when he walked to the beach. No doors, no windows. Cars swept up in the 40-foot waves had crashed into once familiar shops. Crowds gathered to watch as emergency officials pulled bodies from shopping center parking garages.

But 300 meters inland, unaffected shop owners wished they could tell the tourists not to leave. "SEAL offices and staff are all safe and sound," Rice wrote on the Web page of a dive shop he does business with. "If people stop coming and just send their sympathy, the businesses here are going to dry up," he worried.

+ + +

The Rices of New Port Richey are just glad to know their son and his family are all right.

The Dec. 26 tsunami, which was triggered by an undersea earthquake, killed more than 5,000 people in Thailand. Another 8,000 there were injured and more than 2,000 are missing. But the Rices' son and his family were spared.

It has been 11 years since Donna and Bill Rice visited Thailand. Donna had been planning to go back in the next few months. Unlike the case with thousands of would-be tourists, the tsunami has not changed her mind.

She wants to see her son, his wife and the grandson she has not seen face-to-face since he was 4. Bill would like to go, but at 77, he worries about his health.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'd like him home," he said. "But he loves it."

Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement