Julie Geitgey Darger, who grew up in Martinez, was on a long-planned vacation with her husband, Stanford Darger, and his family in Thailand when the disastrous tsunami hit early Dec. 26.
Julie Darger is a firm believer in attending church every Sunday, but she never could have imagined how her and her husband's effort to be in church Dec. 26, while on a family vacation to Thailand during the Christmas holidays, would save their lives as a massive tsunami hit the coastlines along the Indian Ocean, killing an estimated 145,000 people.
"It was surreal," the 25-year-old Martinez native and Evans High School graduate said. "To look back and know we were just there, it was frightening."
Darger's parents, Warren and Ruth Geitgey, of Martinez, say they're happy their daughter and her husband made a good decision.
"They made the right choices, and when you make the right choices, you get blessed by it," Darger's father said.
The Geitgeys watched news of the tsunami on television that Sunday morning, not knowing whether their daughter's group of nine travelers, including her husband, Stanford, and his family, were in the devastated areas of Thailand.
Darger's husband speaks Thai after spending two years as a missionary at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints church in northern Thailand near Chiang Rai. The family centered their itinerary on a visit to that church Dec. 26.
When the family left Dec. 19 for Thailand, they first headed for the southern beaches at Ao Nang, Railay Beach and the tiny island of Koh Gai, Chicken Island. The tropical locations are roughly 500 miles from the 9.0 undersea earthquake's epicenter and were devastated by the resulting 30-foot-tall tidal wave.
Warren and Ruth Geitgey look at photos that were taken by their daughter, Julie Darger, while on a vacation to Thailand. Julie and her husband left the coastal area to attend a church service in northern Thailand shortly before the tsunami wiped out the area where they had been.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The Dargers took a midnight train to Bangkok that Friday night before flying farther north to Chiang Rai. While the family enjoyed breakfast Sunday morning before church, the earthquake rattled tables and chairs. They didn't realize that the shaking was the earthquake until after church, when people were crowded around televisions watching images of the areas they just visited.
"(When we were there) it was really unbelievable, really beautiful," Darger said. "Just 36 hours before (the tsunami) hit, we were enjoying it and soaking it up. We feel really blessed for that."
The Dargers' trip to church took them several hundred miles north and inland, keeping them out of the path of the tsunami.
But Julie's parents at home had to watch the morning news reports Dec. 26, anxiously waiting word on the Dargers. At church that morning, the Geitgeys said, they said a few extra prayers for the Dargers' safety.
"My heart was in my throat," Julie's mother said. She later received a call from a family member's fiance in the United States, saying the family was OK. "That's all we knew, but that was enough."
The family was able to finish their trip, which included riding elephants through the jungle, with no complications. The flight home Dec. 29 even left on time, Darger said.
"Now we almost feel guilty that we had a wonderful trip, when we were surrounded by so much devastation to the place (where) we just were," Darger's husband said. "At the same time, I can only speak for the people of Thailand because that is where I served my mission for two years, but I know that they will pick themselves up by their bootstraps and go back to work. They will be fine.
"It is commendable to the people of the world, they are noticing what a devastating thing this is, not only to Thailand, but to India and Sri Lanka and to Indonesia and Sumatra," he said. "Hopefully, by banding together, these places can get back on their feet pretty soon.''
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