- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

PHUKET, Thailand — A Canadian volunteer yesterday praised the heroic “stoicism” of the young Thai workers charged with sorting and identifying the decomposing bodies of thousands of tsunami victims.

Scott Murray, 44, of Toronto, said he had personally helped to carry and separate about 500 corpses into “Asian” and “foreign” piles at a Buddhist temple, where the bodies were covered in dry ice until forensic teams could try to identify them.

“Even when the bile came up in my throat, and I wanted to puke … you didn’t want to be shown to be weak, in a crazy sense, because you had these Thai nurses and doctors who were 23 or 24 years old, and they were bopping around identifying people,” Mr. Murray said.

“They were just heroes, and the enormity of it was so great, you didn’t want to detract from the whole task by failing yourself.”

Mr. Murray said he had helped unload the corpses, already encased in body bags, from Thai army trucks coming from Khao Lak, the worst-hit area of Phang Nga province about 40 miles north of Phuket.

“The horrible thing about this is, we could tell that they were male or female, but beyond that it was very hard to differentiate whether they were Asian or foreign. You need forensic anthropologists to do that,” he said.

“Forensic teams would try to see if they could identify them based on a list of missing people, and identification marks that they had from families and friends,” he said.

“They took a DNA sample from every single person, whether it be hair, teeth, or they would cut into the thigh and take something from there.”

Mr. Murray said a lot of the Thai victims were carrying wallets or other forms of identification, but most of the foreigners had been sunbathing and were dressed only in swimsuits.

More than 5,000 people have been reported dead in Thailand, about half of them foreigners.

“You immediately took them off [the trucks], and put them in an area on dry ice. The medical teams were working on the identification of them, whether they were either ‘Asian’ or ‘foreign,’” Mr. Murray said.

Those who appeared to be foreigners were scrutinized by foreign forensic teams to determine their names or at least their nationalities. Mr. Murray and other volunteers would then carry them to separate refrigerated containers, “like the Dutch container or the Australian container.”

One of about 100 foreign volunteers participating in the effort, he said he had been deeply affected by the experience.

The bodies “were so grotesque,” he said. “I think it is different than someone dying in your arms, or covered in blood, or the immediacy of death.”

“The worst thing was the children,” whose bodies arrived wrapped in plastic as small bundles, he said.

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