December 28. I went to the naval port to meet boats coming to Phuket Harbour from Phi Phi Island carrying survivors and 400 bodies of the dead. A temporary morgue was set up for family members waiting to identify loved ones. A German man waited to identify his nine-year-old daughter and his mother. They had been together on Phi Phi, along with his wife and 12-year-old son. As the ferry approached to take them to Phuket, he asked his wife to go and get water for the trip. She went with his mother and daughter to the port area stores. As he waited in line with his son he saw the sea retreat and the waves suddenly approach. He ran with his son to higher ground. Afterwards he found his wife in shock. His mother had been swept away. Their daughter had been torn from his wife’s arms, screaming, dragged away with the debris. He was so strong in his resolve to identify his mother and daughter, so composed and determined.
December 31. I had received a phone call from the Canadian ambassador asking if I would go to Krabi town with another Canadian, Greg Jones, to look for Canadian passports. The sister of a missing Canadian girl gave me a description of her tattoos and photos. Another woman gave me a photo of her missing husband and described the burn scar on his stomach.
At the Krabi immigration office we found a pile of wet, sandy passports including five belonging to Canadians. Inside a makeshift morgue, trucks were arriving with more bodies. It was five days later and there was no refrigeration. Having seen the photos of the recent arrivals I knew there was no point in trying to look for identifying marks, nor did I feel I had the strength to do the job.
We recorded passport numbers, dates of birth, and names and saw the faces of so many young people as we wiped sand from their photos.
It was late, dark and New Year’s Eve.
Weeks later things seemed almost back to normal. Beach chairs reappeared Feb. 1. All of the clean up on Phuket was done and rebuilding was underway. Our beach chair vendor, Nui, who used to have 100 chairs, was allowed 20. Maybe the government would let him have more in the future but for now he wouldn’t need them: there were no tourists. The streets of Phuket’s beach towns were quiet. It’ll be tough if the tourists stay away.
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