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THAILAND - Dec 31, 2004

A Special Post-Tsunami Report from Phuket
by Jerry Bowes

I live and work in Patong, but I was in Bangkok on the morning of Dec 26. A friend called about 10am, shortly after leaving his home in Patong, Phuket, not far from the beach. What he related seemed hardly real. He said that there had been a tidal wave. He was in his car and there were palm trees and beach chairs and even motorcycles flowing along a river that was a road only moments before. Naturally I could hardly believe it, much less comprehend it. It was many hours later, after umpteen failed attempts to make telephone contact again, that I had access to a television and visions of the horrific situation engulfing so much of southeast Asia.

I returned to Phuket the next day. En route from the airport the destruction along the beaches was so sad - just an overpowering, crushing sadness. If you have access to CNN and BBC you have seen the images that I was now witnessing firsthand.

It's been four days now and the clean-up is progressing, but what a mess! It all seems such a daunting task. It will get done though. It will, but will anyone be here to see the results? Not if CNN and BBC have their way! They paint a picture of complete and utter destruction, which is not the case. Alas, bad news sells; positive images have little or no advertising value.

Let me tell you what it is like in Patong now. The beach road is devastated; small structures gone, any buildings which had expansive glass facades are now swept-clean empty shells, extensive water damage is everywhere. Roads leading inland, such as Soi Bangla are a mess of washed out shops, nearly all the way to Rad Uthit Road.

Graphic descriptions are not necessary; we have been deluged with nothing but from the print and televised press. What they, unconscionably, do not show you is the lack of damage a mere two minute walk away from the beachfront -- no sensational images to capture, no corpses, no buses in swimming pools, no twisted wreckage and no stunned survivors. There is in fact, no physical damage there. Paradise Complex, where most of the gay businesses are located, is unscathed, as are all businesses along Rad Uthit Road and beyond.

There is unusually heavy traffic, with many telltale signs of disaster. Trucks of army cadets in surgical masks and plastic aprons on their way to more grisly tasks, mud-covered smashed vehicles being towed away, pick-up trucks filled with monks on their way to send off more of the departed and to comfort those left behind, flatbed trucks laden with empty coffins. The reminders are everywhere, overpowering at times.

Amidst all the destruction, death and sorrow; life, of course, does go on. That may just be human nature, but as we long-time expats know, its also very Thai. The sense of community is evident all over the island. Yes, there is life here, everyday life; people shopping, going to work, greeting diners and guests. There is still, even if a bit strained at times, that wonderful, uplifting Thai smile.


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