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Southport Reporter®

Edition No. 182

Date:- 31 December 2004

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Written by our correspondent Jane Batchelor, based in Bangkok.

JANE is originally from Maghull and moved to Thailand last year. Her report was sent to us at 3:00 on Thursday. For more up-to-date information tune your computer into our online radio station.

THAILAND'S southern coastline was shredded like matchsticks in Sunday's catastrophe and the nation is trying to come to terms with the devastation. The death toll is constantly rising from a mere 290 late Sunday evening to nearly 2,000 by Thursday, with the figure for people missing topping 5,000, most of whom are foreigners.

Thai beach front hotels, popular with foreigners and Thais alike including the rich and famous, took the brunt of the 10-foot waves which tore through resorts like bulldozers. The once serene beaches have turned into a place of mourning as the waves which dragged victims out to sea, gradually wash their bodies ashore.

The entire nation is at a loss. The king, a revered figure in the kingdom, lost his grandson in the tsunami who was jet skiing off Ko Lak, the worst affected area. His mother, princess Ubolratana who had escaped the colossal waves with her daughter, spent the entire Sunday night combing the beach until she found her 21-year-old son's body lying helplessly on the sand the next morning.

The nation has reacted to the disaster with compassion and grief. Help lines were set up by the afternoon, Thai TV stations began to include broadcasts in English, a government Internet site with names of the dead and injured appeared by the evening. Aid began to flow to designated areas. Clothes, water, sanitary items, babies' nappies and milk flood TV stations and army depots. TV sets and lights were even left at one aid centre. Soldiers stationed outside aid centres rush to open car doors, take out the goods with a grateful smile and pile them onto trucks designated for the South.

Newspapers have dedicated page after page to the worst disaster ever to hit this country of 62 million people. Embassy numbers, Internet sites, hospitals aid centres are listed day after day.

Thai companies, including the national air carrier, have offered free flights from Phuket to Bangkok. People destitute with no passports have been given documentation to allow them to fly, often for free, back home.

Volunteers have poured in to assist with medical work, manning Help lines and translation. One German man who had been separated from his girlfriend lay helpless in a Bangkok hospital. Communicating was an issue for the staff at the government-run hospital. A British citizen, who asked not to be named, volunteered to assist the man, who had just had both his legs and his right arm amputated due to the disaster. She contacted the German embassy and the next day an embassy representative and a German who was fluent in Thai were with him. His girlfriend had been located in Dubai, but as to how she got there is still unclear. His company will fly him to Germany for free. And he is beginning to talk about seeing his 11-year-old son and walking with artificial limbs.

New Year celebrations have been cancelled, flags will be flown at half mast for three days and the public have been encouraged to wear black. Three days of mourning, ending December 31 have been declared.

Rescue work down South for people who may be trapped under the debris began Wednesday with workers and dogs sent in from Germany and television stations carry near 24-hour coverage.

The disaster has left a huge scar on everyone's hearts here and people still hold out hope that their loved ones are alive. Many could be; miscommunication and lost records could account for some of the 5,000 missing people.

People affected by the disaster spoke of how the locals offered them everything they could, from clothes and shelter to information. One German girl interviewed on channel 5, who gave her name only as Christine, simply said:- "I couldn't have done this alone. Without the Thai people I would be lost. Without them I wouldn't be here now."

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