TOPICS : Coming to terms with tsunami reality

Fabio Scarpello:

Many of the distraught next-of-kin and friends of the missing are coming to grips with the emerging harsh realities in the island resort, one week after tsunamis engulfed Thailand’s southern coastlines — sweeping away thousands to their deaths. It may seem like a cruel act of nature but the fact remains — either dead or alive, their husbands, wives, daughters, sons or close pals might never ever be found.

“We have to face the fact that we may not find her and that she is most likely gone,’’ said Jane who flew over from Australia last Tuesday in search of her sister Dinah Fryer. Dinah is one of the over 600 Australians unaccounted for in Phuket and surrounding areas.

Over 5,000 died when killer waves battered the southern provinces of Phuket, Phangnga, Krabi, Ranong, Trang and Satun, triggered by last Sunday’s 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Indonesia’s northern Sumatra. Besides Thailand, the other areas most affected were the Indonesian province of Aceh, Sri Lanka and the Indian chain of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The United Nations has warned that the total death toll is likely to be more than 150,000.

Though in southern Thailand more bodies are still being found in devastated beachside resorts, a week after the tragedy, most of them are unidentifiable because of the advanced stage of decomposition they are in. The Thai Interior Ministry’s Disaster Mitigation Department said the number of missing was 6,424 — most of them foreign tourists. The worst hit country is far-flung Sweden with 3,500 people still unaccounted for.

A frantic search-and-rescue operation has gone on a for a week but the results have been poor. While local authorities and international organisations have been searching for bodies and trying to rescue survivors, family members are combing the hospitals and makeshift temple mortuaries in Phuket, Krabi and Phangnga, to look for their loved ones. But the hope of finding anything seems to be fading fast.

Phi Phi, now, resembles a scene from hell, with corpses decomposing and the stench of death in the air. Rescuers said about 600 bodies had been found. In Phuket’s town hall, bulletin boards dubbed the ‘’wall of grief’’ are still crowded with hundreds of messages and pictures. But the number of people stopping by to scan the messages has fallen. Even fewer scour through the gruesome pictures of the dead whose distorted faces hardly resemble human beings. The main search tool is soon to be a computerised database, which will be linked to any other place that holds information. Crucially, the DNA results of the dead will also be in this database and can be matched with that of their next-of kin.

In the meantime, focus from the dead has shifted to the living — especially to grieving family members. More psychologists have arrived in Phuket Island to offer post-trauma counseling.

Weatherly, a psychologist with 30 years experience, explained that for a family member uncertainty is the worst emotional state. ‘’At this stage family and friends are in shock. Within one or two months, shock will turn into anger and maybe depression,’’ Weatherly told IPS. ‘’Only then, will the healing process start,’’ he added. — IPS