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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Family reconnects with fellow survivors

They couldn’t understand much of what they were hearing, but the three voices from half a world away were a relief for a family from Ione, Wash.

Dianne and Les Allert and their daughter, Rachea Allert, were vacationing on Phuket Island in Thailand on Dec. 26 when the deadly Asian tsunami hit, killing as many people as there are in Spokane. On Wednesday, the family talked by phone to three Starbucks employees, including one whom they believe saved their lives.

“We wanted that closure a lot,” Dianne Allert said after the 15-minute call from the coffee shop, which reopened this week.

Since their experience, the family has wondered who these women were and how they were affected by the disaster.

The Allerts were in a Starbucks across the street from the beach when one of the employees shouted something that indicated trouble. Rachea hit the floor, thinking there was a bomb. But they understood quickly that they had to leave, and fast.

The Allerts estimate they had less than a minute to get to safety. If the woman at Starbucks hadn’t shouted, they don’t believe they could have made it in time.

“It was coming fast and furious,” said Les, who owns Perfection Tire stores in Spokane and Newport.

They fled the coffee shop to a roof a couple of blocks away.

Wednesday, the Allerts talked to the three employees, who were back to work at Starbucks and whose families were safe. They found out that it was Wilai Chuaykeed who shouted the warning when she was cleaning tables outside and saw the first wave coming in.

Andrew Nathan, managing director of Starbucks Coffee Thailand, translated for the three women. The Washington native said he was visiting his mother for Christmas in Spokane when the tsunami hit.

“Everyone is looking to the future, and everyone is busy rebuilding,” Nathan said from Thailand. “Everyone wants the world to know that the world is welcome to come back to Phuket.”

The family was lucky to have had an upper-story hotel room that wasn’t touched by waves. They spent the night there and left for Bangkok the next day, as scheduled. Les and Dianne left Thailand Dec. 31. Rachea, who is in Whitworth’s master’s in teaching program and is a student teacher at Mt. Spokane High School, stayed until Jan. 22 to observe Thai schools and teach a few English classes.

“It will take a long time to get over the sadness,” Dianne Allert said. “It’s going to take me awhile to get my adventure legs on again.”

Still, the family said that they would like to one day go back to Phuket to visit the women.

After the phone call, Rachea played in a faculty basketball game.

The game raised more than $2,000 for tsunami relief efforts.