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Thread: Looking back at a tragedy
26-12-05, 02:28 AM #1
Looking back at a tragedy
Looking back at a tragedy
A year after the worst natural disaster in Thai history, the country and many foreign guests are pausing today to remember the tsunami and its aftermath. Few anniversaries in this country will be as sad. The terrible waves of Boxing Day 2004 hit southern Thailand but affected the world. Among the dead and missing were Thais and guests from near and far. It is still difficult to confront the disaster. Yet even as the victims are remembered at memorial services today in the South and around the world, Thailand also can be proud of its role in the hours and in the year since the tsunami rolled over the Andaman beaches.
On the opposite page this morning are letters from foreigners attesting to the bravery and tender hearts of Thais who found themselves in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. Such major trauma causes some people to retreat into mental shock, others to flee in denial _ perfectly understandable reactions to events that overwhelm the senses with death, injury and destruction. Unanimous testimony is that Thais on the beach and in villages and towns near the tsunami reacted magnificently. They organised care for the maimed, treated the horribly injured, comforted those who had just lost family and friends in an insane instant of natural force.
This is not the first time Thais have risen so quickly to the occasion in the face of extreme adversity. Through fires, floods and _ for example _ the 1989 Chumphon typhoon, those on the scene and then the nation as a whole have won praise for extraordinary calm and compassion. The tsunami, though, posed the extreme test. The killer waves brought an event so terribly unexpected and so tragically fatal that no one could prepare.
Those who found themselves accidentally on the scene responded splendidly. Those a little further removed immediately were moved to help. A planeload of medical staff was on the scene before the sun went down. Literally thousands descended upon the South from around the country to take any job to help, no matter how menial.
The country's response in the first few days was praiseworthy. This newspaper's readers say so. So did the World Health Organisation last week, as this anniversary approached. Thailand received a plaque of honour from the WHO, dedicated to the ``hospitality of Thailand's medical teams and volunteers in assisting the tsunami victims''.
Nor should the country forget that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra seemed to be everywhere in the disaster area in the immediate aftermath. He provided the sort of leadership a country demands from its elected government.
After the first shock and response, Thailand faced numerous problems and decisions it never before had been forced to confront. Huge morgues were necessary to house the thousands of bodies. Indeed, the task of identification has still not ended. The tsunami swept away two economies in its fury _ tourism and fishing. Extensive help from the government, but most especially from foreign NGOs and generous donors from around the world is helping to rebuild a fishing fleet, plus the villages of the fishermen's families. Governments and the United Nations, private groups and school children from around the world who donated their lunch money all have helped, and Thailand is grateful.
Tourists are returning. Some southern beaches are as busy now as they were 365 days ago. But elsewhere, such as Khao Lak in Phangnga's Takua Pa district, the sadness today will be almost unbearable. Tourist operators there have restored only 1,200 of the 6,500 rooms swept away. People who lived through the tsunami there do not want to talk about that day, although they will remember in their own private ways.
Everyone hopes that a warning system will prevent another disaster like last year's. Or maybe nature itself will simply not cause another tsunami like it. Either way, the people in the South are likely to be nervous for many years to come.
But they can be proud, as can the whole country. The tsunami was a tragic disaster, but it also was a test, and Thailand and its citizens passed with flying colours.
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