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Phuket's Tsunami Gift: After the Wave Retreats

Phuket's Tsunami Gift: After the Wave Retreats

Sunday, March 13, 2011
News Analysis/Opinion

TSUNAMI memories of Phuket in 2004 come flooding back with the images from Japan: the unstoppable torrent, the cluttered, chaotic aftermath, the mounting death toll.

Nobody who was there will forget Phuket and the Andaman coast in the days after December 26, 2004. Japan's agony, though, is magnified. They have also endured earthquakes, and now a nuclear nightmare.

Those of us who survived back then were lucky, I guess. I'd decided to head for a Phuket beach on Christmas Day, rather than Boxing Day.

In talking to survivors after what followed, many people had cause to remain grateful to fate.

As the dead were being collected, people among the debris on Phuket and the Andaman coast north to Khao Lak and beyond also had reason to be thankful.

The ribbon of coastline was savagely battered, but the roads largely remained open. Relief came quickly.

Volunteers poured to the coast from all over the country: it's the Thai way. I hope it is also the Japanese way.

Survivors had remarkable stories to tell. The Canadian at Vachira Phuket Hospital told how he had been snorkelling off Kata Noi when the wave swept in, and lived to tell the tale.

An Australian tourist had been walking along Phuket's Patong beach with his wife, on the first day of their holiday. They ran, but not fast enough.

As luck would have it, they were lifted up and able to reach safety on the second floor of a beach road building.

A man who lost both his parents was grateful that they had always said ''I love you'' to each other every morning and evening.

Driving over a crest on the way to Khao Lak, we came across a pickup laden high with bodies. There were bodies everywhere. At a beach nearby, there was nothing to see except flat concrete foundations, where building had once stood.

A woman ran past yelling, ''More waves! More coming!'' We knew there was no logic to what she was saying and to the running, but we headed to higher ground anyway.

Later came the difficult task of giving names back to the nameless bodies, a task that will also become necessary in Japan as visual identification becomes less certain.

Along the Andaman coast, tourists from resorts were swept into the remnants of local villages and Burmese laborers and their families were whirled into resorts.

Japan may also need the help of international forensic teams to identify as many victims as possible, although there may be fewer outsiders and therefore less confusion.

On Phuket and the Andaman coast, passports and all other means of identification were also washed away.

I talked to dentists who checked the teeth of bodies to match them with data from clinics around the world, to young police who soaked dead fingers in hot water so prints could be taken, to doctors as they took DNA from shin bones.

If Phuket has something to pass on to Japan, it's that there will be an end to the agony. Closure will come. The pain and the tears will pass.

Life, or at least a slightly different version of it, will go on.
Tsunami Sends Message to Phuket: Always Know Who Will Wake You
PHOTO ALBUM/Update A tsunami after a quake off Japan causes vast devastation and sent people to rooftops. For Thailand and Phuket, the dramatic reminder is the need for eternal vigilance.
Tsunami Sends Message to Phuket: Always Know Who Will Wake You

After the Big Wave: What Happened in Phuket

The Tsunami: Week One Recalled
What was it like in that first week after the tsunami? Here one Phuket resident relates the story as it was reported in other places. This article has never appeared in print on Phuket.
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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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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 from 2007 is a report of one such reunion.
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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

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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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 ID Cremation Mix-ups Trouble Families
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. PHOTO ALBUM
Tsunami ID Cremation Mix-ups Trouble Families

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Very touching. My sympathies to those affected.

Posted by Phuket Kop on March 13, 2011 20:36

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Send in the Elephants

As an American nurse with a Phuket resident friend, I was impressed with the elephant rescues and wrote a book about them. ebook at Bangkok Books, paperback soon to be released in US portion of proceeds to go to Japan relief.

Posted by Nancy H. Murray on March 14, 2011 21:32


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