RIP Mr. Fernando


When catastrophe strikes and you know someone in it, it all becomes more real. Nate Berkus, who has helped dozens of guests on the show decorate their homes, was vacationing in Sri Lanka with his partner when the tsunami hit. While Nate survived, his partner, photographer Fernando Bengoechea, is still missing.

After the final wave receded, the stunned tourists and locals of Arugam Bay and nearby Pottuvil were left to face the utter devastation left behind. In this area alone, more than 400 people died and hundreds were injured. Dozens are still missing. More than 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed leaving an estimated 7,000 homeless. It will be years before this former paradise will be able to recover from this historic disaster.

When Nate finally made the emotional 30-hour journey back from Sri Lanka, Oprah visited him at his home, where he told of unbelievable stories of courage and of loss, of anguish and compassion. There are countless stories like these rising from the heartbreaking wreckage of southeast Asia. Nate is here today to share his own story.

Nate’s partner, Fernando Bengoechea, is still among the missing. Fernando, an internationally acclaimed photographer, has had his work appear in major magazines including Stromectol online kopen O, The Oprah Magazine Buy zyban medication . From celebrities, to gorgeous interiors, exotic locations and wonderful portraits of humanity, Fernando captured spirit and beauty. Fernando’s family recently released this statement:

“Based on all of the information we have gathered and the search team’s extraordinary efforts, we still have not heard any word of Fernando. Therefore, it is with great sadness, we are forced to presume Fernando died in the tsunami. We believe everything that could be done has been. This is a difficult thing to say, comprehend and accept. We are sure there will always be a bit of hope in our heartsA?a??A?He will be greatly missedA?a??A?”

Marcelo Bengoechea says his brother Fernando “was just the most wonderful person you could probably meet.”

“And I just want people to know that his life meant so much for so many people that it’s a pleasure to have been part of his life and I’ll for sure continue his life through mine and my wife and kids and Nate and all of his friendsA?a??A?I’m sorry, I have no wordsA?a??A?It’s very hard.”

Oprah says, “I want to keep saying [Fernando’s] name out loud because I think it’s important for everybody who’s lost their life for their life to be more than that moment of death. And his work and his art will live on for everybody who he filmed; for everybody whose life he touched. But we get to see him through his work forever.”

Arugam Bay was a seaside paradise, tucked away off the southeast coast of Sri Lanka. The only way there was a bridge from the nearby town of Pottuvil, a remote Shangri-La of white sandy beaches, swaying palms, world class surfing and colorful fishing boats. Arugam Bay was so far off the beaten path, only surfers and adventurous travelers had discovered this charming village. It was here at the quaint Stardust Hotel where Nate and Fernando were vacationing when the tsunami came out of nowhere.

It was 9:30 a.m. and Nate and Fernando were making plans for the day in their hotel room, a small hut about 50 feet from the shore. All of a sudden, water started pouring into the room very fast. As Fernando tried to pick things up off the floor, they suddenly heard a crack. The next thing Nate knew, he was trapped on the floor underneath the bed, his face pressed to the wall and floor, and he was covered with water.

Nate explains, “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I have to get up. I have to get my face up because I can’t breathe.’ And in the next minute, it was really a miracle. The roof of the hut was torn off by the force of the water. And both Fernando and I were taken out of the hut and it just felt like we were drowning immediatelyA?a??A?The force of the water was so great and the debris in the water was so extreme becauseA?a??A?all the nails and the wood and the barbed wireA?a??a??you were swirling within all of those things. So I had a lot of scratches and cuts which I didn’t know how I had received, but I realized that it was becauseA?a??A?I was in a soup of everything.”

Nate and Fernando were washed out into the swirling water, and ended up popping up together. Fernando swam to Nate and they just tried to stay together. “And then a minute later, we were drowning again,” Nate says. “And we popped up again andA?a??A?we were still moving forward at about 50 or 70 miles an hour, but the water wasn’t coming over our heads any longer. So you could breathe. And that was the main goalA?a??a??to breathe.”

As the currents swirled around the two, they tried to keep their heads above water. They were again separated and reunited in the mayhem. When they both grabbed and held onto a telephone pole and to each other, the water calmed and then Nate says Fernando kept saying, “It’s over.” “And then all of a sudden we felt the water surge again and [Fernando] looked at me and said, ‘It’s not over.’ And I felt his hand on the back of my shirt and I felt his hand slip awayA?a??A?And then I was drowning again.”

When Nate finally got up for air and the water had calmed again, “That is when I felt like I was in a video game,” he says. “And it’s the only way I can describe the sensation of my body traveling at such a speed in one direction and you visually are looking at the obstacles in your pathA?a??a??You have the presence of mind to have all of these obstacles coming in your path and you are really thinking about the present. ”

Nate was washed into a relatively calm area behind one of the few houses that was still standing after the first wave.

“I found myself in this pool of water where I wasn’t being pushed in any direction. There was a fence: the water was about as high as the top of the fence, and the fence was made out of logs and palm fronds.”

Nate believed that his only hope was in reaching that house’s roof. “Every time I stepped on a log, the water would take it away. So I would fall back, and then have to grab onto the next log. It happened about three times. Finally, the last log stayed in the ground and I was able to pull myself up on it and then reach the edge of the rooftop that was covered in red tiles.”

Nate was determined. “I thought to myself, I just need to climb up and I’m certain that Fernando is doing the same somewhere right around here. I reached out to grab the tile and the tile just broke off in my hand and I fell again.

“I climbed back up on the post and I thought to myself, ‘I am going to die if I don’t get on top [of the roof],’ and somehow I was able by just squeezing the side of the rooftop to pull my whole body on top of it.

“There was a Sri Lankan man sitting hanging onto the post and once I was up on top and out of the water, I reached down to try and help him. He grabbed my hand but didn’t have the strength to come up and then grabbed my arm and didn’t have the strength to come up and I don’t know what happened to him. On the rooftop, I just started calling out for Fernando and looking all around and just was expecting for him to say, ‘I’m here’ or ‘I’m hurt’ or ‘I’m in this tree.'”

From the rooftop, Nate realized that he could not stay there. “I remember thinking, ‘I have to climb back into this. If I want to survive and find [Fernando], I have to climb back in.'” So Nate lowered himself off the roof and “got into the water with bodies, with animals, with glass, barbed wire and everything and I had to walk about 150 feet back towards the direction where I thought our hotel was.”

At that point, Nate ran into Anneli, a Swedish guest at the same hotel where he and Fernando were staying. Anneli told Nate that another big wave was sure to come, and that they needed to get to higher ground. They ended up staying on this hill with other survivors, stranded, for about a day.

When rescue helicopters finally arrived, Nate was unsure what he needed to do. “I had a minute where I just didn’t know what the right thing to do was,” he says. “Should I actually leave, or should I continue looking [for Fernando]? I was hurt, we were running out of food, we were running out of water. Some of the water we were drinking we thought was contaminated. I just didn’t know at that moment what the right thing to do was. And Phil [Squire, another survivor] said to me, ‘It’s the right thing to do. Get on the helicopter because you can’t do anything for him here.'”

On the hilltop, someone miraculously had a cell phone that worked. Nate had a turn on the phone. He left an emotional message for his mother, Nancy Golden, which she says she’ll never forget or erase.

“Mother, it’s me,” Nate said. “Listen to me very carefully, okay? There’s been a horrible natural disaster in Sri Lanka. I am fine. I don’t have a passport and I don’t have anything, but there are many people here from different countries and we’ve already alerted the embassy. Fernando, I can’t find still and it happened hours ago, so I don’t know where he is. But I just want you to know that I am fine and that I will call when I have an opportunity. I borrowed the one cell phone that works from the government here. Okay? I love you.”

So how did Nate’s mother respond? “I was really in shock because I hadn’t heard about the tsunami at this point,” she says. “I was in an airport. And so I get this call and I’m thinking, ‘What has he survived? What is he alive from?’ My husband’s watching me take this call and I have no blood left in my body and I don’t even know who to ask. I saw some man with a laptop and I said, ‘Can you tell me if you know anything about Sri Lanka?’ And he said, ‘Yes, there’s been the largest natural disaster in a hundred years there A?a??A? a tsunami.’ So I said to my husband, ‘[Nate] survived a tsunami? Oh, my God. I don’t believe it.'”

Letters of love and support have been pouring in for Nate. He says, “For the first three days when I was back in Chicago, I went to bed every night with a stack of thoughts and prayers from people for me and for Fernando and Fernando’s family. It literally made me go to sleep and gave me reason to get up.”

Kirstie Alley sent a video message of support to Nate, who helped her redesign her house. “Fernando is a free spirit,” Kirstie says. “And free spirits always have a way of finding their way home. I love you Nate.”

While Nate and his some of the amazing survivors he met were stranded on that hilltop for about a day, he says not everything about the experience was negative.

“Despite the death and the destruction and the horror, there was an incredible amount of beauty going on at that time,” Nate says. “The beauty in the midst of it was just so staggering. The kindness that was shown, not only to me, but to one another. You could feel the humanity: it was palpable and it was very, very real. When you’re there and you have nothing and you have no clothing and you have no identification and you have no water and you have no food, you are dependent on someone else’s smile.”

Oprah Whinfrey Show
on the Arugam Bay

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