- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 1, 2005

PHUKET, Thailand — The most depressing pictures show the missing children.

“Please help us find little Ragnar,” begs one notice taped to a wall at Phuket’s City Hall, where hundreds of Western tourists have posted names and photos of loved ones missing in the tsunami since last week.

Ragnar Bang Ericsson, aged 2, “understands both Norwegian and Swedish,” reads the notice. “He’s bright blond, has blue eyes [and] a small pink triangle birthmark on his lower left back.” Ragnar’s parents are “both confirmed to be alive.”

At least 2,230 foreigners so far have been found among the more than 4,800 bodies recovered along Thailand’s western coast, Thai officials said. An additional 6,000 foreigners still are missing, many of them presumed to be dead.

Sweden suffered the most with up to 3,500 missing, followed by Germany with about 1,000. Italy, Norway, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands also reported hundreds of missing citizens, and other nations lost scores. Seven Americans have been confirmed dead.

But it is the details on the individual notices at the City Hall that turn the statistics into flesh-and-blood human beings.

“Nicole Weissberg, from Colorado, USA, age 27,” reads the caption alongside three photographs of a dark-haired woman with a big, lipsticked grin, shown sitting on a man’s lap in a restaurant or bar.

“Staying in Khao Lak on 25th night in unknown location, last email at 8 p.m., 25th Dec.,” says the sketchy notice.

Khao Lak’s beaches, about 40 miles north of Phuket Island, were among the worst hit by the tsunami that devastated Indian Ocean shorelines on Dec. 26.

Another, more detailed message, appeals for information about British tourist Jennifer Gaye Solomon, 46.

“Last seen: Khao Lak, Sofitel Resort. Wearing: Striped multi-color bikini with black strings, flowery navy blue reversible shorts beige on the inside and sunglasses. Jewelry: Yellow gold wedding band with four small diamonds and yellow gold asymmetrical engagement ring with single diamond no claws,” the notice says. Her distinguishing marks include “Caesarian and appendix scars and mole on right foot.”

Tragically, a disproportionate number of the notices concern children.

One sign points to a photo of “this 10-year-old German boy, missed since the spring tide on Sunday 26.12.04. … Who can give information?” A message adds: “The mother was saved from drowning, but the child is missed.”

Nearby, a large photo of a baby is captioned: “Please if you find live or the body, contact us.”

A $25,000 reward is offered to anyone who can find Louise Hallin, 11, from Sweden, who has long blond hair, green eyes, “a long scar on her under leg and a birthmark on her stomach.” She “disappeared from her family in Khao Lak.”

On a rare cheerful note, a photo of a young boy has the word “found” scrawled in large Day-Glo pink letters across it.

Alongside the photos of the missing are dozens of gruesome pictures of the dead, all recognizable as Western tourists despite the bloated or blood-spattered faces.

Diplomats, volunteers, officials, relatives, friends and others spent New Year’s Day studying the display, even as overwhelmed emergency teams worked out of sight to wrap cloth or plastic around the bloated and mangled corpses, cover them in dry ice and take DNA samples in hopes of identifying them.

Other signs tell relatives of the missing where to go to provide a DNA sample in hopes of establishing a match to one of the corpses.

The City Hall has become a sort of one-stop shopping center to help survivors seek the missing, contact embassies, receive food and transport and talk to hospital personnel.

Many of the bodies are being collected at Buddhist temples, or “wats,” but visitors are advised not to go there unless a body already has been identified.

“They should not go to try and find a body themselves, as this will be impossible and unnecessarily traumatizing. Bodies from the disaster are no longer recognizable,” a printed advisory says.

If all the gore and heartbreak become too much, psychiatric help is nearby, according to regular announcements over loudspeakers.

“Free counseling services available under the Coca Cola tent,” the loudspeakers announce. “For anyone. Volunteers included.”

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