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Elephants sensed waves coming (26-12-2004)

Khao Lak _ Agitated elephants felt the tsunami coming, and their sensitivity saved about a dozen foreign tourists from the fate of thousands killed by the giant waves.

``I was surprised because the elephants had never cried before,'' mahout Dang Salangam said yesterday on Khao Lak beach at the eight-elephant business offering rides to tourists.

The elephants started trumpeting _ ! in a way which Dang, 36, and his wife Kulada, 24, said could only be described as crying _ at first light, about the time a massive earthquake cracked open the sea bed off Indonesia's Sumatra island.

The elephants soon calmed, but began wailing again an hour later, and this time they could not be comforted.

``They just kept running for the hill,'' said Wit Aniwat, 24, who helps tourists mount the elephants.

Those with tourists aboard headed for the jungle-clad hill behind the resort beach where at least 3,800 people, more than half of them foreigners, would soon die. ``Then we saw the big wave coming and we started running,'' Mr Wit said.

Around a dozen tourists also ran toward the hill from a nearby resort. ``The mahouts managed to turn the elephants to lift the tourists onto their backs,'' Mrs Kulada said.

She used her ! hands to describe how the huge beasts used their trunks to pluck foreigners from the ground and deposit them on their backs.

The elephants charged up the hill through the jungle.

Buffalo, also sensing the approaching danger, led an entire village in Ranong's tambon Muang Kluang to the safety of higher ground, a villager said.

Kornee Art-harn, 42, said about 100 buffalo were grazing near the beach at Bang Koey village when the entire herd suddenly lifted their heads and looked out to sea, ears standing upright. They turned and stampeded up the hill.

Bewildered villagers ran after the buffaloes fearing the beasts would be lost.

Mr Kornee said within minutes of the villagers making their way to the hilltop, the huge tidal! waves slammed into the fishing community.

``Not a single one of us sustained a scratch,'' he said.REUTERS

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