- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

KHAO LAK BEACH, Thailand — This worst-hit stretch of Thailand’s western coast has been geographically reshaped by the tsunami, which forced sand, coral, shells and fish onto land and left Phang Nga province with a different beachfront.

At a damaged Buddhist temple, a stone’s throw from the sea, a mother and daughter sit on the steps of a small shrine, drying Buddhist prayer books in the sun after slapping their covers and shaking them to remove grit between the pages.

Up the coast, scavengers pick through jagged rubble at devastated resorts, stuffing cut pieces of plastic drainage pipe and anything else worth recycling into large garbage bags tied to makeshift rusty sidecars welded onto the scavengers’ motorcycles.

In Thailand, most of the more than 5,200 dead Thais and foreigners, and 4,500 who are still missing, were in and around Khao Lak Beach when the tsunami struck Dec. 26. The area includes five-star resorts, Thai workers’ villages, plantations and inland shrimp farms.

Thais operating bulldozers flatten whatever sticks up from the sandy dirt, joined by trucks and cranes to clear resorts and other prime zones as quickly as possible.

Inland, a camp for displaced people appears spiffy and well-stocked for the living.

About 130 boys and girls giggle and cheer while watching a Tarzan video, subtitled in Thai, even though the cartoon shows elephants and other animals stampeding through water and threatening each other.

Sister Anna, a bespectacled 60-year-old nun originally from Italy but based in Thailand for the past 30 years, grins while watching the children who sit on mats next to boxes of food.

“This camp is called Moo Ban Thai Mai, or ‘Village of the New Thai People,’” explained Ariane Grubauer, 20, who has come from Germany to teach English among the Salesian Sisters, a Roman Catholic congregation founded in Italy 160 years ago for missionary work.

“The people here have food and everything, but I think the problem is the future. Some refugees in another camp were fishermen, and they lost their boats and everything else because their village was directly on the sea,” Ms. Grubauer said.

“Here, the children have seen so many terrible things, but still they laugh and play.”

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