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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Inside Out - North West: Monday January 24, 2005


Map of affected areas
The tsunami disaster has hit the headlines around the world
North West action
John Farrington answers your questions
How to help
Sources of support and advice

In the aftermath of the Asian tsunami disaster, Inside Out meets one man who spent his savings to go overseas to try and help those worst-hit by the crisis.

Here, John Farrington tells the BBC the story of how he travelled to Thailand to try and make a difference.

Force of nature

On December 26 2004, a massive earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale occurred off the coast of Indonesia, the largest of its kind for 40 years.

The resulting tidal wave, or tsunami, devastated communities from eastern Malaysia to West Africa, killing over 270,000 people, with over 400 Britons feared dead or missing.

People all over the world have been shocked by the tragedy, donating money in their thousands, but for one North West man, simply contributing to the relief fund just wasn't enough.

Exclusive web interview
John Farrington
John Farrington travelled abroad to help out in the crisis
What compelled you to come?
What were your impressions when you arrived here?
What have you got from your experience?

That's why John Farrington took his savings and left his Wilmslow home to go overseas to help - right at the centre of the crisis.

"Like most people I watched in horror as the events in the Indian ocean unfolded.

"I suddenly decided to leave everything I know and love behind, and spend my savings on a flight to Bangkok.

"It was an easy decision to make - it was all because of this photograph in the newspapers, of a father in India holding his dead eight-year-old son's hand.

"It reminded me of my son Gabriel - he's eight too.

"When I talked to him he told me, 'Daddy, I want you to go, because the people out there need help.'

"That was how I found myself on a plane to Thailand."

Images of destruction

The BBC gave John a camera to record his experiences, and, as we discovered, it was even more shocking than he first thought.

Destroyed village
Many areas have been totally devastated by the tidal wave

When he arrived, the first thing he saw was a wagon carrying coffins, so he stopped filming to help load the dead bodies.

John stayed in Thailand over New Year, and said the experience was harrowing.

"It's hard to think that all around the world people were saying such a sad goodbye to a year that ended in tragedy, and welcoming in a new one with such despair instead of hope.

"In Khao Lak there was no sense of time, just the grim task facing the army and the stench and silence of death.

"Candles were being lit and prayers said for the dead."

During his time in Thailand, John only met one man who survived the disaster, and was overwhelmed by the devastation that faced him everywhere he went.

He was particularly affected by the thousands of people searching for their missing loved ones, not knowing if they were dead or alive.

"The hardest part for me was trying to help people find those missing, especially when they were looking for children.

"People would come to us with their details, and by the time I'd been there three days we'd set up a wall of photographs.

"By the end of my first week there are still search teams going out looking for bodies."

Unusual sights

Relief tent with supplies
Charities and volunteers are working hard to distribute relief

John was surprised by some of the measures the Thai authorities were taking to help - including using a group of elephants normally used for tourist trips to help carry bodies back to the Disaster Centre.

And he was moved by the efforts of the people he met, who were all trying to help in some small way in the midst of the tragedy.

"A German man, who was living in Thailand, arrived with his wife.

"He told me he had just brought a car load of supplies for us.

"It was a wonderful gesture and the kind of thing that was happening every day."

But amid the happier moments of his trip, John and the team were also in considerable danger.

"It's a terrifying reminder of how vulnerable we are when new earth tremors shake the camp and we're told to get on a lorry and head into the hills. I was petrified."

Despite his fear, John and the other men and women who volunteered their time made a real difference to the relief effort in Thailand.

And while John was overseas at the centre of the tragedy, his neighbours back home in the North West were doing what they could to help.

For details of how the region got involved, read our breakdown of the North West's fundraising efforts.

If you would like to put a question to John about his time spent in Thailand, or how his experiences have affected him, please email:

See also ...

Inside Out: North West
John Farrington answers your questions
North West action
How to help
Sources of support and advice

On the rest of Inside Out
Extreme weather

BBC - Guide to the Asian Tsunami

On the rest of the web
The Disasters Emergency Committee

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

I just couldn't believe what had happened in South Asia. Its affected me so badly, because my relatives live in Bangladesh, South Asia. When I saw the pictures to what had happned, I felt very disturbed. I only wish that i could do more for the survivors of the tsunami as they have nothing left.

I just couldn't believe what had happned in South Asia. Its affected me so badly, because my relatives live in Bangladesh, south Asia. When I saw the pictures to what had happned, i felt very disturbed. I only wish that i could do more for the surviovrs of the tsunami as they have nothing left.

the tsunami was a mistake .i was a survivor and i wish it never happened i am so sad and i wish my family was here

Richa Shah
Hello my name is Richa Shah. I am 12 1/2 years old I think that you should ask the teachers in every school that if they can have a sponsered walk in the school.

stephanie kelly
i have watched Johns programe and i wish i could help find the people that have lost family and i am very happy that there are lots of charitys saving to help the people who got hit by the tsunami and john didnt think about himself he thought of others!!

i cant believe how this has affected me....i wasnt involved but the people of south asia have lost everything im helping a school to raise money for the tusnami appeal, n the pictures and moving stories i have read when make presentations really does touch my heart!

I met John and Gabriel on Christmas day 2003 whilst volunteering in a hostel. He inspired me then when talking about his work. It did not surprise me when I saw him being interviewed on BBC North West nor subsequently last night's programme. It was a brave journey he made despite his protestations to the contrary. If only more of us were prepared to make a difference.

becki derrig
I'd just like to say that john's report moved me and my son christian (who is the same age as john's son, gabriel) to tears, although i had seen it on the news, being up close amoungst the goings on at the disaster area really brought home what had happened out there, it was horrific but i think john really made a difference.

I watched the John Farrington programme & only wished I could of been able to go out there. As I am only 16 I could not travel over there on my own. I have a friend in Sri Lanka who has lost quite a few of his relatives, which is very sad!! I would really like to go over there soon and help him and his family out!! I thought the programme John featured in was very moving and emotional, he brought tears to my eyes. I think what John did was very brave and I respect him for that.

I have just watched the 1/2hr programme & was very moved by the scenes and accounts by John. I admire him for doing the very thing that many of say we would want to do but never get round to as our lives get in the way - he didn't think about himself, he put others first & for that I commend him.

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