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Hundreds missing at sea in Thailand

From CNN Correspondent Aneesh Raman

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A street in Kata beach in Phuket, Thailand.
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The death toll is expected to rise after tidal waves triggered by the quake.

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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Thai authorities say more than 300 people have been killed as a result of tsunamis that devastated southern Thailand after an enormous earthquake off the coast of Indonesia.

Officials in Bangkok said 117 people are reported dead on the resort island of Phuket, and another 60 people on the island of Phi Phi.

Twenty-eight were killed in the coastal city of Krabi.

East of Phuket, 86 people were killed in Phangnga, and north of the resort island, in Ranong, 23 people were killed.

Officials have also said that 300 to 400 people were still missing at sea and more than 5,000 have been injured.

The economic toll is expected to be huge.

Phi Phi, smaller and less-well known than Phuket, suffered a "clean sweep" of its hotels, officials said, which will have to be rebuilt.

The Phuket area brings in 40 percent of Thailand's $10 billion annual tourist business.

Phuket's airport closed when its runways flooded, but later reopened. Officials, however, kept most roads closed, fearing structural damage to buildings, roads and bridges.

Tourist Ernst Mollemans, on the last day of his vacation and taking a boat trip from one island to another south of Phuket, narrowly escaped death or serious injury when he heard the driver scream and abruptly turn the boat toward a small beach to their left.

"We wondered why he was doing that, so we turned around and saw this wave, about three meters," Mollemans said.

"When the boat hit the beach, we jumped out and ran up the beach. We were lucky it went up hill, it was rather steep. And we turned around and we saw the boat crushed."

Mollemans said his party waited six hours for a boat to bring them back, and they have spent their time since trying to help.

"There are people who are just doing their normal lives because they weren't affected, and then there are people who are devastated," he said.

"There are people in a restaurant, eating their meals, and then there are people walking by crying."

"The strangest thing to me was when we were coming back on the boat, there was a really beautiful sunset."

Security expert Will Geddes, vacationing in Phuket, told CNN the devastation was "quite substantial."

"The whole beach area and most of the town were under water," he said.

"Beach villas were completely taken out. It was quite amazing to see."

Those on the beach "had to run very quickly," he said, "and the water came in again and again on waves.

"When the water was about up to my ankles, about two seconds later it was up to my chest," he said.

The entire process took about 20 minutes, but the first few waves -- taking about five to 10 minutes -- caused the worst damage, he said.

Geddes said it was low tide when the waves struck -- which may have helped prevent even worse damage.

Geddes also said he felt the initial quake, which struck just off northern Sumatra and registered 8.9 magnitude -- the strongest earthquake on the planet in 40 years -- and it shook his villa "quite substantially."


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