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Metaphor for the missing: One flag not on the Wall of Remembrance

Tsunami Missing: Families Still Waiting to Hear

Monday, December 22, 2008
Tsunami Anniversary 2008

PHUKET'S Tsunami Wall of Remembrance looks a lot better now that the grass has been cut and the wind-worn national flags have been replaced.

When we were there on Friday, all the flags were flying except above the word AUSTRALIA, where there was nothing but blue sky.

The missing flag seemed to be a metaphor for the missing from the big wave itself.

While it will be four long years on December 26 since the tsunami, there are still plenty of families in the region who continue to long for closure.

They are not all among the beneficiaries of the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification process, which gave names to the vast majority of the tsunami's 5395 victims.

Most of these families lost more than one member, and it is the missing one that keeps them waiting for news.

For these families, and for others whose memories are rekindled at this time of year, the tsunami will never be forgotten.

Six Tsunami Families

All of these families come from Nam Khem, a fishing village in Phang Nga where about 850 people died in the big wave.

Family One: The six-year-old son of Jiraporn Pa-O-Pas disappeared on the beach at nearby Bang Muang. Khun Jiraporn said she took two sons to the beach that day. The younger son, 15 months old, has been identified. Her husband had run carrying the six-year-old, but the wave swept the boy from his arms. Khun Jiraporn carried the younger boy but the wave caught them and she lost him. Her husband saw a photo of their younger son on a board at Wat Bang Maruan and reclaimed the body three days after the tsunami. In the middle of January 2005, Khun Jiraporn met with the DNA team collecting saliva samples. Six months later, a blood test was taken. She has heard nothing since. She does not think that almost four years after the tsunami, she will have the chance to reclaim her elder son's body. The body of the younger brother is being kept at Bang Muang temple because a funeral and cremation, according to Buddhist practices, cannot be held until after the funeral and cremation of his elder brother.

Family Two: Virat Tongsrikaew disappeared at Tabtawan beach at Bangsak. His son, Watcharachai, was fishing wish his father in a boat that day, but they were close to shore when the wave crashed in. He surfaced and saw his father was alive, too. He grabbed a polystyrene bin that kept him afloat. He and his father bobbed along with the bin. His father did not look well. Eventually he struck out for shore, leaving his father supported by the bin. He never saw his father again and believes the Royal Navy probably took the body ashore as they collected bodies immediately after the tsunami. Their home at the village of Nam Khem was washed away. Five other members of his family, his wife, mother, mother in law, father in law, and a son, were killed. Their bodies have since been identified and recovered. He sought his father's body in a temple but could not identify him. His DNA had been sampled several times the last time before the third anniversary.

*They visited again on December 11, a TTVI official told Phuketwan

Family Three: A six year old girl, Sujitra Padungdeach, disappeared on December 26, 2004, her family said. Staff from Bang Maruan checked the DNA of other family members but could not check her parents' DNA because they were confirmed victims of the wave. There were also no dental records. The girl lived with her grandmother at Nam Khem and the woman survived by climbing a coconut tree near their house. Later, she looked for her granddaughter at the hospital and local temples. Seven people in the family died: the girl, the girl's mother and father, grandfather, an uncle and two cousins. The other six bodies have been returned. The last contact between the TTVI and the family was in 2007.

Family Four: The family says Vipaporn Kaikaew, 24, was working in the Emerald Resort at Khao Lak and her sister Yaowaluk, 22, was at home in Nam Khem when they disappeared on the day of the tsunami. The body of Khun Yaowaluk was identified about a year after the wave. The women's mother and father were fishing at sea at the time. The two decided to head out to sea, not to land, and survived. The body of Khun Yaowaluk has been returned but not Khun Vipaporn. As much information as possible had been sent to the TTVI, but there were no dental records. The TTVI has not been able to match records with a body.

Family Five: Eight-year-old Saranyu Kongmeang vanished with four other members of his immediate family when the wave struck Nem Khem. Khun Saranyu is the only one who has not been identified. His mother, Sujitra, said she was fishing with her husband at the time and they survived. Since then, all documents have been sent to the TTVI and other organisations for checking. They discovered several of their family dead at Takuapa Hospital that day. Saranyu's grandmother was identified by dental records a week later. But there were no dental records for Saranyu. Khun Sujitra said she had been to the Bang Maruan centre many times, but was always told there was no news. A friend in the same situation also had had no contact from the TTVI.

Family Six: Somsri Janngen, 42, was one of seven people from the family who vanished under the wave at Nam Khem. Six have since been identified. Khun Somsri's son, Salakjit, said police had checked his DNA about three times. He had sent them all documents about Khun Somsri, but had no dental records. The TTVI contacted him about a year ago to ask about birthmarks, then everything went quiet. His younger brother checked at Bang Maruan centre last year, but there was no news.

About 380 bodies still lie in the cemetery for the unidentified victims of the tsunami at Bang Maruan in Phang Nga, not far from Nam Khem.

Some 1070 Swedes and Germans died in the tsunami, along with about 185 Fins, 155 Britons, 115 Swiss, 95 French, 88 Austrians, a similar number of Norwegians, 78 Koreans, 40 people from Hong Kong, (which is on the wall as China) 36 Dutch, 28 Japanese, 24 Americans and 23 Australians.

About 2700 Thais died, along with a number of Burmese laborers.

On December 26 anniversary ceremonies will be held from 9am at four points: Loma Park in Patong, the Mai Khao Wall of Remembrance, the tsunami sculpture at Kamala, and the Phuket International Airport.

Patong beach is expected to be lit with candles in the evening. Other ceremonies are planned for Phang Nga and Krabi.

Locals who wish to visit the Wall of Remembrance in Mai Khao can find it by proceeding through the police checkpoint at the north of the island. Head into the right-hand bend that follows, then turn left at an unmarked track as you come out of the bend.

Essential Reading

Phuket Wall of Remembrance Now a Disgrace
The world gave to Phuket and the Andaman coast after the 2004 tsunami. Now the island's Wall of Remembrance sits in a disgraceful state, with some flags of 45 countries blown away.
Phuket Wall of Remembrance Now a Disgrace

Tsunami ID Cremation Mixups Trouble Families
Photo Album The return of the wrong bodies to families of some tsunami victims is believed to be making the highly praised Thai Tsunami Victim Identification process even more complicated.
Tsunami ID Cremation Mixups Trouble Families

Bodywork: How Tsunami Victims Reclaimed Names
The work by international police created the greatest forensic detective saga in history. Here is a report from the first 100 days.
Bodywork: How Tsunami Victims Reclaimed Names

The Man Who Waits in The Cool Container
Lost and found. Those three words tell a tsunami story that applied to thousands of victims. But for one of the lost and found, there has been no reunion with loved ones. And there may never be.
The Man Who Waits in The Cool Container

Water and Fire: A Tsunami Reunion
The poorest unidentified victims of the tsunami in Thailand are the ones who still have yet to be reunited with relatives. Here is a report of one reunion.
Water and Fire: A Tsunami Reunion

Tsunami Warning Test: How Safe Are We?
Warning drills for a tsunami are easy in sunshine. But the unpredictable arrival of a big wave in the middle of the night, when telephones and television are switched off, leaves us asking: How safe are we?
Tsunami Warning Test: How Safe Are We?

Tsunami Warning: 'Resorts to Blame'
The lessons of the 2004 tsunami have not been learned. And for the first time, the reliability of the big wave warning system is being questioned. An adequate answer is essential.
Bodywork: How Tsunami Victims Reclaimed Lives

US Calls For Tsunami ID work To Continue
A US grant to Thailand of up to $1.5 million to assist in restoring names to victims of the Asian Tsunami expires on March 31. But a scandal continues to obscure the future of the identification process.
US Calls For Tsunami ID work To Continue

Thai Official Accused of Tsunami Corruption
Accusations of corruption by a Thai official take the edge off a generous international tsunami project that involved about 40 countries and gave names back to thousands of unidentified victims.
Thai Official Accused of Tsunami Corruption


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Wednesday December 6, 2023
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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