- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

PHUKET, Thailand — Americans toss a Frisbee disc, Germans eye the lapping sea and an Italian daydreams of Pompeii here on Patong Beach as the stench of death wafts on a tropical breeze.

“You have to enjoy yourself and life goes on,” Steve Acquafredda, 26, an engineer from Phoenix said in an interview on the sand.

“It is certainly terrible what happened, but that’s not going to stop me having a good time out here and enjoying myself,” he said moments after tossing a Frisbee disc with another American, Matt Kopala.

When the tsunami rolled into Patong Beach on the morning after Christmas, the white sand was packed with tourists frolicking in the shallow water, women sunning themselves on towels or wooden lounges, and people relaxing over breakfast at wood-and-thatch, open-air restaurants.

“I imagine, like, what the wave would have looked like coming in and how it would affect things. But certainly I think the chances of that happening again right now are very, very slim,” Mr. Acquafredda said.

Several dozen tourists were back on Patong’s curved, mile-long beach where the soft tumbling of tiny waves mixed with groaning bulldozers and an unidentifiable stench, perhaps from rotting corpses, food or debris.

Cement structures are intact but soggy with sand, and strewn with broken refrigerators, furniture, cars and other heavy items.

Foreign and Thai business owners are hurriedly repairing, painting, sweeping and drying out surviving shops, hotels, bars and offices.

The damage ends about a quarter of a mile inland where busy streets perpendicular to the sea, gently slope higher.

More than 260 people died on Phuket island, mostly at Patong Beach, Thai officials said.

The Thai government is anxious to broadcast the message that Patong Beach and many other tourist venues along the damaged west coast are rising from the mire and desperately needing tourists to boost the crippled local economy.

Government-run TV repeatedly shows bikini-clad foreigners strolling along the shore, topless women lying face down on their towels, foreign adults and children sitting and playing on the beach, and other tourists splashing and swimming in the sea.

Elsewhere on Patong Beach, German paper manufacturer Ekkchard Jager, 42, said he was in Phuket, about two miles inland, when the tsunami hit.

“I was in a hotel, sleeping. I didn’t notice anything. Nothing,” Mr. Jager said in an interview while relaxing on the sand.

“I’m married to a Thai lady, and we come here for a holiday once a year, and my wife has family here,” he said.

“But it is not the same as last year, when there were more people and more enjoyable. Now it is quieter and not so good,” Mr. Jager said. “We knew some people who died, who were from here. A man working on the beach, we’ve known him for 12 years, he died. So we think about this a little bit.”

Vincent Lanzoe, 46, an Italian tourist who works as a hospital administrator, said he arrived in Phuket 10 days before the tsunami and was safe at a friend’s house about 50 yards above sea level.

“Yes, it was very terrible and bad luck for the people, but I didn’t think that I would go back and stop my holiday,” Mr. Lanzoe said in an interview in the shade of a palm tree on the beach.

Reminded about the volcano that buried Italy’s Pompeii in lava and ash nearly 2,000 years ago, Mr. Lanzoe said there was some similarity: “People didn’t have time to know what happened.”

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