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Tent City in Thailand

January 11, 2005

by Kathryn Reid in southern Thailand

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BANGKOK, 11th January 2005: In the aftermath of the tsunami, more than 1,200 bodies were found in Nam Khem village, said officials at Bang Muang sub-district administrative offices.

Many of the dead are still stacked in dozens of metal truck containers beside a Buddhist temple.

A banner out front reads: “Body and Lost Persons Information.” Inside, international volunteers are processing DNA samples. The bodies are now too decomposed to even differentiate Thais from tourists.

In the grounds of the Bang Muang government center, a tent city shelters hundreds of the survivors. As they struggle to deal with losses and injuries, others have mobilized to meet their immediate needs.

Volunteers and the military are erecting elevated metal duplexes for small families and wooden-sided sheds for larger family units. They are stringing power lines to the temporary homes. Service companies are preparing hot food and non- governmental organizations are handing out bags containing soap and personal items. Under a tent, vocational school students are repairing motorcycles and appliances. Women pick through huge piles of donated clothing.

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In the spacious entry hall of the administration building - now piled shoulder-high with donated rice, cooking oil and other necessities - Khun Chanarong Maharae, administrator, reads from his notebook. “There were 1,500 households in Nam Khem that had deeds to their property; another 1,600 did not,” he says. Rebuilding the village will require an enormous effort, and reconstructing lives will require much more. “These are fishermen and they have no boats; they need everything,” he says.

The waves washed over Nam Khem from two directions, rolling as far as 3km. from the shore. Boats crashed into houses and brought snagged trees along with them. Now everything is a jumble, although whatever can be salvaged is being carefully removed by survivors. Others turn over shards with sticks looking for valuables and family mementoes.