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On the deck of Patrol Boat 813 a private ceremony takes place

Tsunami Wave Carries Powerful Memories

Friday, December 26, 2008
Large Photo Album Above

FOUR years on, there are moments that bring back the enormity of the tsunami and remind us of its significance today.

In Phang Nga, at a memorial ceremony in the village of Nam Khem, a Phuketwan reporter sits next to a stranger. ''I lost 11 members of my family,'' the woman says, matter-of-factly.

Nam Khem, salt water. In Thailand that day, no place suffered more. The villagers here have built a fine memorial, with poignant plaques, a huge curved wall and a fishing trawler, and they maintain it well.

About 850 of Thailand's 5394 tsunami victims that Sunday morning were from Nam Khem.

Today the families place framed mantelpiece photographs of their loved ones on a large table until there are about 70 present.

The collection of faces becomes a shrine for the day. Hundreds of survivors queue and, one by one, leave white roses, in memory.

Perhaps the most touching part of all comes after the official speeches, when the families collect the framed photographs.

Some take one portrait. Others take two, three . . . then reach back for a fourth.

One woman lifts up a large photograph that carries the images of nine relatives, young and old.

Another woman walks past with a photograph under her arm of a child who looks about four years old. By her side is another girl, about the same age.

There is no need for words to tell the story of the 2004 tsunami. It lingers here, in the faces and the memories of the villagers, and their fine memorial.

The children from the Takuapa tsunami orphanage are here too, probably among those running and playing and doing their best to enjoy a romp, ignoring the adults and their memories.

As we are constantly reminded today, the tsunami divided us into those who cannot forget and those who do not wish to remember.

Earlier, we visit the cemetery where 380 unidentified victims are interred, and look on as members of the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification unit places a couple of large white wreaths at the memorial.

Around them, the cemetery is a sea of sunflowers. A couple of months ago, villagers scattered sunflower seeds across the sad rows, alongside the alphabet-and-numbers grave markers.

Now the still unnamed victims share the cemetery with bright greens and yellows.

There are touching moments, too, even earlier, close to Khao Lak, beneath and on the grey patrol boat that was washed a couple of kilometres inland by the big wave.

An elderly woman using a cane struggles across a wooden footbridge with great difficulty, then a young man comes forward to help her make the long journey to Patrol Boat 813.

On the deck high above, long before the crowd gathers for the early morning official service, a group of men in uniform place flowers at a shrine on the bow and kneel in prayers.

Before midnight comes, their prayers will be matched and joined by thousands of others, all along the Andaman coast.

It will be a long time yet before memories of the big wave fade.

Do you recollect that day? If so, please tell us through the Comment box below

Thailand Tsunami: Essential Reading

Tsunami Missing: Families Still Waiting to Hear
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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.
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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.
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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.
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The Man Who Waits in The Cool Container
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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.
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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?
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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.
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Wednesday December 6, 2023
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