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A Homecoming with Habitat Help

February 15, 2005

by Esther Lake in Phang Nga

February 15, 2005

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He barely survived the tsunami, and since then Guang, 79, has been hospitalized with severe lung damage, unable to speak. His emaciated body is ulcerated from falling bricks, and his blood poisoned from the filthy water. His first words were, “I want to go home.”

Home is a bare shell. Guang’s bed is a thin mattress laid over a couple of doors propped up by bricks in the back room of a small dwelling. He lies here, in his broken house, in obvious pain. The water took everything he owned. But the day he was carried back home, Habitat volunteers were at his house, helping his family repair damage, replacing a door, pouring cement in the yard, and cleaning up rubble. He is being cared for by his daughters, and his family are around him. They are all survivors, even his 11 month-old grand-daughter Satem, whose mother, Na, 30, managed to cling onto a tree as well as her child.

The old man was dozing on a bench by his home on the morning of December 26 – just like any other day. His wife Kimlian was tending her vegetables to sell at the market. One of his six daughters, Na, was nearby, playing with her baby.

The dog started barking wildly. This was the only warning of the waves racing across the military land across the road, one kilometer inland in Thap Lamu village, Phang Nga. No one saw the water coming until it broke through the long wall across the road and crashed onto the house.

“At first I thought, what should we do, where should we go,” said his daughter Caw, 33. “Guang was so sick, and everything was gone.”

Caw was in her restaurant on Kamala beach, Phuket, when the tsunami hit. She ran from the waves with her small daughter Jane, 4, and her son June, 6. It was two days before she heard news from her parents and sisters that they had survived. The women are still suffering from nightmares that the waves will come again.

For three weeks, Caw, her husband and her children stayed at her brother’s home in the hills above Kamala, which became a makeshift camp for over 100 displaced people, living together and supporting each other. Her life’s investment – the beach-front restaurant – has been destroyed. This was her livelihood, as well as a source of support for the whole family. She has little hope that there will be adequate compensation for the property and equipment worth nearly 400,000 baht (US$10,000).

Now the sisters care for their father and repair the house. They are piecing together their lives; family photos have been replaced by donations of rice and nam pla, clothes, blankets, a stove and a radio. Guang is very sick, but his home is being rebuilt around him, and his grandchildren are playing again in the newly-paved yard.