- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

BANGKOK — Bloated corpses yesterday floated off the coast and littered beaches in Thailand, where more than 1,500 people drowned, many of them foreign tourists, and 1,000 disappeared in the Sunday tidal waves.

Rescuers tied ropes to stiff, jutting legs and arms of drifting bodies and yanked them onto small boats, or waited until the tide brought them to shallow water, where groups of grim-faced men lifted and carried them away.

Many of the dead appeared clad in swimming gear or walking shorts and T-shirts, their flesh burned by the tropical sun and decaying in the saltwater, but lacked identification papers.

“What is terrible is that some rescue officials dare not enter in the spots following warnings of aftershocks,” Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said.

“Some wounded people run to hills and refuse to come down for medical treatment because they remain frightened” of more tidal waves, he said. “It’s also difficult to find victims in some spots because communications and transportation routes are cut off.”

Rescuers discovered decomposing corpses strewn along the granite-studded, sandy beaches of Khao Lak, about 60 miles from Phuket island, and its estuaries, mangroves and sea cliffs.

An estimated “60 percent of the bodies were foreigners” at Khao Lak, about 50 miles north of the devastated Phuket island, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported yesterday.

Some of the dead hung from trees after rising water perched them in branches. Babies and body parts were discovered rotting in the sand.

Thailand’s royal family grieved the loss of the monarch’s grandson, Poom Jensen, 21, who despite suffering autism had been water-skiing along Khao Lak’s shore when huge waves hit.

His body was found after a frantic search. His four palace-appointed bodyguards survived.

The Health Ministry sent 20 refrigerated shipping containers to the region to collect and store hundreds of decomposing bodies, amid hopes that they might be identified by relatives, officials said.

People who were rescued yesterday along Thailand’s lengthy, ravaged west coast included many whose lacerations and other injuries were dangerously infected because they had gone without medical treatment since the disaster.

Doctors amputated limbs too diseased or crushed to save, after tidal waters slammed people against walls, cars and other sharp objects.

Other devastated coastal provinces include Phang Nga, Krabi, Trang, Ranong and Satun — all famous for palm-fringed beaches and resort facilities that ranged from five-star to dirt-cheap.

The Associated Press reported from Phuket that a 2-year-old boy who was found dazed and alone on a roadside was reunited yesterday with his uncle, who spotted the child’s picture on the Internet.

The boy, identified by his uncle as Hannes Bergstroem, was found Sunday night on a road in Phang Nga province near Khao Lak. He was taken to Phuket International Hospital, where the staff posted pictures of the blond-haired boy with red spots all over his face from mosquito bites.

In another happy ending, 4-year-old Vathanyu Pha-opas was reunited with his parents after spending two days stranded in a tree in southern Thailand without food and water.

“It is a miracle that he is alive and still asks for sweets and biscuits. I don’t know how he manages to survive with only minor bruises and some mosquito bites,” his father, Suthipong Pha-opas, told Reuters news agency today. “I had given up hope of seeing him again.”

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