In wake of tsunami, fears of ghosts still haunt Thailand
A Thai worker rebuids guest-houses damaged from the December 26,
2004 tsunami on Phi Phi island. Few will actually admit to seeing a
ghost themselves, but everyone has heard about them on this once
idyllic island still rebuilding after the tsunami killed 700 people.
Few will actually admit to seeing a ghost themselves, but everyone
has heard about them on this once idyllic island still rebuilding after
the tsunami killed 700 people.
There was the woman who saw foreign tourists struggling to escape the
sea almost a year after the tsunami, and the hotel worker who heard
ghosts playing on the beach.
Guards at an oceanfront plaza on nearby Phuket's famed Patong beach
said one of their men had quit after hearing a foreign woman cry "help
me" all night long.
Similar stories abound of a female foreign ghost walking along the
shoreline at night calling for her child.
Many Thais say they believe the souls of the nearly 5,395 people who
were killed in the tsunami continued to haunt the Andaman coast long
after the debris had been cleared away and reconstruction began.
It's not so much that the spirits are angry as confused. Many Thais
of all faiths say that if people die in pain or by accident, their
spirits remain lost until they understand what has happened and can move
For 26-year-old Lungyai Suriyaporn, her fear that ghosts were still
wandering the beaches of Phi Phi was one of the reasons she stayed away
from the island for nearly 10 months after the tsunami. Lungyai returned
in October to reopen her backpacker lodge. Guests have been trickling to
the modest two-story house, where she also runs a small convenience
store off her porch.
She believes most of the lost souls from the tsunami have already
moved on and no longer haunt the beaches, but says the memorial
ceremonies planned for the first anniversary will help the ghosts that
"This is good, to inform people about the tsunami, and to give
ceremonies for the souls, for the ghosts that are still here. And we
need to remember all of those who were here and lost their lives in the
tsunami," she said.
Thailand will hold interdenominational ceremonies again on the first
anniversary of the tsunami, with morning services on five beaches timed
for the moment when the waves hit, and a larger candlelight vigil at
Fears of ghosts have kept Thais and many other Asians from returning
to the tsunami-hit beaches, preferring instead to visit the Gulf of
Thailand, where the deadly waves did not hit.
Sujitra Wichianirat, 35, an office worker in Bangkok, said she would
not go to the Andaman coast even one year later.
"First, I'm scared of ghosts. Second, I'm scared of tsunamis because
I'm worried it might happen again. If tsunamis happen, at least we know
from the tsunami warning system and I can run away from it. But for
ghosts, I don't know how to escape from them," she said.
Hundreds of bodies have yet to be identified - the Disaster Victim
Identification unit says it has 805 bodies or body parts from unknown
victims - which Sujitra said means the dead could be reappearing as
ghosts to seek help.
From the moment the tsunami hit, Thai Buddhists have turned to monks
to help soothe these lost souls.
When Thais along the Andaman coast began retrieving corpses, they
carried them to temples, where hundreds of bodies were kept for months
as the largest international forensics team ever assembled began the
ongoing work of identifying them.
Temple grounds also became emergency shelters, where thousands of
people sought refuge after losing their homes.
Just days after the tsunami hit, monks in their flowing orange robes
began walking the beaches, sprinkling holy water, and visiting homes and
businesses for cleansing ceremonies.
Muslim, Christian and Hindu religious leaders were also invited to
join interdenominational prayer services and "merit-making" ceremonies,
which Buddhists believe will help the souls of the dead find a better
life as they become reincarnated.
Despite the fears of ghosts, Alan Oliver, an American researcher at
the World Buddhist University in Bangkok, said that in general, the
tsunami had not shaken Thai Buddhists' faith.
"In Buddhism, there is no 'God did this. Why did God do this?' They
see it as a natural cause.
Buddhists view that life is imperfect. When a disaster like this
happens, they just accept it as a natural way of things happening."(AFP)
Indonesia's children slowest to recover
Six-year old Mimis (C), who lost her parents in last year tsunami
disaster, posing with her friends in Keude Panga, Aceh province.
Children around the Indian Ocean were among those most severely
affected by the events of last December 26. Many were orphaned by
the catastrophe, while others were dealt a trauma that persists one
year on. In Indonesia’s battered Aceh province, where more than
165,000 people were killed or are missing, as many as 20,000 kids
are believed to have suffered psychological trauma while 2,155 lost
both their mother and father. (AFP)
JAKARTA, Indonesia's children are recovering slowest among those in
countries worst hit by last year's calamitous tsunami, said a survey by
the UN's children agency released Thursday.
More than 1,600 children from Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and
India, all of whom lost a home or relative in the disaster, were quizzed
by UNICEF about their feelings on the catastrophe and their future.
"Among the four countries, Indonesia was the hardest hit by the
tsunami and appears to be recovering more slowly," the survey report
"The children surveyed in Indonesia expressed a degree of pessimism
in the shape of boredom, indifference, loneliness and sadness...They
have the least optimistic view of the future and the highest proportion
of children who feel their lives are worse now than immediately after
Some 168,000 Indonesians were killed out of an estimated 220,000 who
died around Indian Ocean countries when the tsuanmi hit last December
26. Children were among those worst affected, with many orphaned and
others suffering trauma that persists one year on.
One third of children surveyed in Indonesia believed that their lives
would not improve, while in the other three countries 80 percent of
children were positive about the future.
In India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, children said that during free time
they feel cheerful and content, but in Indonesia, feelings of loneliness
and boredom occurred more often.
Nearly a quarter of Indonesian children also said they often felt
hungry and 19 percent said they were not eating as regularly since the
UNICEF said that "the situation in Indonesia is the most challenging,
with one quarter saying that their lives are worse now compared to one
to five days after the disaster."
In all countries, the trauma still manifests itself in a fear of
beach-related activities for one third to one half of the affected
children, the survey found.
Virtually all children felt that additional aid was needed, most
often support to stay in school, although more than nine out of 10 said
they were back in classrooms.
The survey was commissioned to better understand how surviving the
tragedy had affected children and to improve programs that meet the
needs of the tsunami generation, UNICEF said in a statement.
First post-tsunami birth of baby
Agnes Raj and her baby are well
A tsunami survivor in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has
given birth to a child after undergoing surgery to reverse a tubectomy.
Officials say it is the first such birth since women who lost
children in the disaster were given the chance to reverse the procedure
free of charge.
Agnes Raj, 26, who had a baby girl on Sunday, lost all four of her
The tsunami killed more than 2,500 children in Tamil Nadu, India's
worst hit state where nearly 10,000 died.
Agnes Raj is married to a fisherman in Kottilpadu, a village in
Kanniyakumari district, about 700km (435 miles) from the state capital,
She had an operation to rejoin her Fallopian tubes at a private
clinic in February and became pregnant the following month, her doctor,
Indira Surendran, saido.
The baby was delivered in the same clinic in Nagercoil. Both mother
and child are fine, Dr Surendran said.
Six other women who underwent the surgery at the same clinic have
also conceived, she added. Senior district official Sunil Paliwal told
the BBC that many women in Tamil Nadu had had surgery to reverse
tubectomies following the tsunami.
But he said Agnes Raj was the first of the women to give birth. The
district has received money to pay for eight more such operations, he
Operations to reverse vasectomies and tubectomies are available free
of charge in Tamil Nadu at all state-run facilities.
Women who want the operation done privately are given 25,000 rupees
(about $555) to pay for the operation to reverse their tubectomy.
The state government announced in March that it would foot the bill
to pay for those whose children died in the tsunami to have the chance
to conceive again.
The news brought hope to poor parents who had had birth control
operations but could not pay for them to be reversed.
Tsunami toll remains elusive
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Bustari Mansyur shrugs wearily when asked how
many bodies his workers retrieved from the mangled wreckage of last
December's tsunami. The question seems irrelevant.
"There were so many bodies, we could not count," concedes the
chairman of the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Red Cross, which took on
an unofficial role as body-counter in the days after the disaster. "On
the first, second, third day - there were a lot of bodies. We don't know
how many - the government, until now, does not know."
The December 26 tsunami slammed mercilessly into coastlines around
the Indian Ocean, resulting in devastation so complete that skeletons
are still being retrieved as the grim cleanup labours on a year
The most widely accepted estimates of the final toll add up to around
220,000. But significantly different figures are still being offered:
the Roman Catholic charity Caritas Internationalis suggested Wednesday
that closer to 400,000 lives were claimed.
Entire villages were obliterated - leaving no one to report deaths -
while buses and cars were sucked out to sea. Bodies were buried rapidly
without identification amid fears that a second wave of disease would
Records from many wiped out areas, already mired in poverty and
stricken by deadly conflicts, were frequently patchy at best.
In Indonesia, the Jakarta-based spokesman for the Red Cross told AFP
that it planned to release a report later this month on its work in Aceh,
which would include a toll. Finalising one, however, is no longer a
"We are continuing our tracing and mailing program consistently but
our focus is now to rebuild Aceh and move beyond body count," Hadi
In a June report, the Red Cross said 131,029 were killed and 37,066
missing. Satkorlak, the government agency tasked with coordinating
responses to disasters, puts the number of dead at 130,013, but has the
same missing figure.
A post-tsunami census carried out in devastated Aceh province,
meanwhile, found that 4,031,589 people were now living in Indonesia's
westernmost province, down by 238,411 on the figure compiled before
national elections in October 2004, though officials drew no
In Sri Lanka, estimates of the dead range from 21,000 to 41,000
people and officials admit that double-counting and confusion
immediately after the disaster may have distorted figures.
Police records show that 20,936 people were killed and police
maintain that only 421 people are still reported missing. Aid agencies
however cite a figure of 31,000, based on a report from the social
Official records in India say the final death toll is 10,749, with
5,640 still missing, mostly on the Andaman islands but figures from
different agencies there have also been conflicting.
Thailand has an official toll of 5,395 dead and 2,817 missing, but
these figures have yet to be reconciled with the work of a Disaster
Victim Identification unit, which has been steadily scratching names off
a list of missing and returning remains to families.
The DVI says it has 673 names left on its list of the missing, but it
has 805 bodies or parts of bodies that still need identification.
Colonel Khemarin Hassiri, the police official heading the forensics
effort, said the tsunami probably killed many who were in the country
illegally - such as workers from Myanmar - who were never reported
Thailand's sea gypsies still adrift after tsunami
Even before the tsunami washed away their homes and destroyed the
boats that were their livelihood, Thailand's sea gypsies lived in a
culture struggling to adapt to the modern world.
One year later, many say they still feel adrift in a sea of change as
they rebuild their lives.
For Chon Klatale, 43, rebuilding means making longtail boats, the
traditional wooden vessels that are key to the survival of his seafaring
community that lost everything when the tsunami ripped through Phra
Thong island off Thailand's Andaman coast.
He is among nearly 200 people still living in temporary housing on
the grounds of the Pa Samakee Dharm Buddhist temple in Khura Buri, in
the hardest-hit southern province of Phang Nga.
As he smoothes the wooden planks on a nearly finished boat, Chon
remembers hearing that the tsunami was coming from his son-in-law, who
was working at a tourist bungalow on the beach on the morning of
He was able to alert the village to run to higher ground, and Chon
says no one died, but the villagers lost most of their boats and fishing
His village of Moken, one of three groups of sea gypsies in Thailand,
fled Phra Thong for the mainland, where they found shelter at the
A sea gypsie works in a back yard of Wat Pa Samakee Dharm, in
Thailand’s southern Phang Nga province (AFP)
Traditionally, the Moken were nomads of the sea, moving among
villages on the islands of the Andaman in Thai and Myanmar waters,
travelling as they have for centuries with little regard for modern
For those who choose to keep the old traditions, which have no custom
of fixed addresses or property rights, they often find they are
essentially squatters, living in national parks or on private property.
Chon's village was built on private land, but he says the owner
allowed them to stay. Many have already returned to the island, but with
help from the Buddhist monks at the temple, dozens of Moken families are
preparing to settle on the mainland by clearing land for a new village.
"The land on Phra Tong island belonged to somebody else, but they
agreed to let us stay there without paying anything," he explains.
"But the land here, we are safe from disasters, and it's easier to
live here. Here we have electricity and lights, it's easier for our
children to go to school and to buy food."
The head monk in Khura Buri, Phra Kru Suwatthi Thammarat, says the
temple has bought land for the Moken to build new homes on the mainland,
and is leasing it to them for only 200 baht (about five dollars) a year.
That arrangement gives them property rights that they have never had.
Some 32 families have already moved to the new site, but 45 others
remain in temporary aluminum or plywood homes on the temple grounds
while the land is cleared for their new homes, Suwatthi said. The temple
has also opened a boat workshop, where a volunteer from the town has
come to show the Moken how to build their own longtail boats.
Suwatthi says the Moken have received help from local and
international charities - noticeably in the donated temporary housing -
but that the monks want to show them how to support their families over
the long term.
"The most important thing is, you must stand for yourself," he says.
"People came to help them, but they say, 'we have a boat already, we
have fishing equipment already, we don't need new ones'."
Many Moken and other sea gypsies settled decades ago into permanent
villages in Phang Nga or the neighboring resort isle of Phuket. But for
those used to traditional ways, the idea of having one permanent address
on the mainland is still unsettling.
Jut Klatale, 65, says she hasn't seen the new village yet.
"We're all just waiting for the new village to be ready. The land
there looks like a jungle, so they have to clear the land to make the
new houses," she says as she weaves new crab nets while on the porch of
her plywood house at the temple.
"My life has to be near the sea, because I earn my living by fishing.
I cannot stay far from the shore. I can't do another job," she says.
Jut's neighbor is more skeptical, shouting from across the way: "If
the new village is no good, I'll look for another island to live on."
The deep-rooted ties to the old ways appear to have helped save the
Moken during the tsunami. Those living the most traditional lives
suffered the least during the tsunami, says Derek Elias, who works with
the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in
Typical Moken homes raised on stilts above the water's edge provide
an ideal lookout point for unusual movements of the sea.
And although last year's tsunami was the first in living memory, the
Moken have a word for the deadly waves, which feature in their folklore.
"They tell a story about the great wave, primarily a story to scare
kids," Elias says.
"It does teach you fear, it teaches you to be afraid when you see the
water doing weird things."