Lawrence business owner Tom Van Holt was on a boat during a snorkel outing last weekend in Thailand's Surin Islands when he saw waves hitting a beach and carrying people out to sea.
"It was very scary," Van Holt said.
Van Holt, owner of Starving Artist Moving, called the Journal-World late Wednesday night from a Buddhist Temple being used as a relief center. He was not hurt when southern Thailand was hit by the tsunami.
Van Holt was on a long, wooden boat off the island with several other divers when the water started behaving strangely.
"Nobody knew what was going on other than the water was looking funny," Van Holt said. "I saw that there were breakers going in one direction and breakers going in the other direction. Then I realized it was a whirlpool."
Another boat carrying scuba divers almost got caught up in the whirlpool, Van Holt said.
A half-mile from the beach, Van Holt later watched as waves carried about 40 people out into the sea, he said.
"All but five (people) were rescued," he said.
Van Holt made his way to the inland town of Khuraburi, where he had taken refuge in the relief center. Although Khuraburi was spared from the tsunami, Van Holt expressed concern about health matters because of the bodies left elsewhere in the tsunami's wake.
"We have to really be careful, especially eating fish," he said.
Van Holt is considering staying in Thailand and possibly collecting information for writing a book.
"The Thai people have really been great," he said. "They are giving us free food; the phone calls are free."