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The faces of regrowth across Thailand

By Alan Morison

Journalist Alan Morison reported from Thailand on the immediate aftermath from last year's Indian Ocean tsunamis.

Prasert: I will try to make my life better alone.


Disasters (General)

(CNN) -- The tsunamis unleashed from last year's Indian Ocean earthquake struck Thailand's six southern provinces. More than 5,300 deaths have been recorded, while hundreds more remain missing.

The following are accounts of the past year from people in Thailand's tsunami zone.

Prasert Suwanprasert, dive instructor trainee

Prasert Suwanprasert, 30, a fisherman from Baan Nam Khem in Phang Nga, was orphaned by the tsunami. Now he is training to be a diving instructor under an innovative scheme.

About 850 people died in the township of Baan Nam Khem (Salt Water Village). Because most fishermen were ashore, the fleet was badly damaged. Khun Tit is one of 17 Thais, all affected by the tsunami, now doing a course with the new Ecological Training Center. Funded by the French Red Cross, the course equips them with job skills. Founder Reid Ridgway hopes additional funding can be found for future trainees.

I was working as a fisherman last year, mostly with my father. That morning I had something to do in Takuapa, so I left my parents at home in Nam Khem. I came back about noon and saw what had happened. I ran to look for my parents. There were many bodies. I found my father's near our home. My niece's body and my nephew's body were there, too, not far from each other. I had nothing left, no possessions and no place to sleep. Our home had been destroyed but I couldn't find my mother.

Those of us who survived went into temporary accommodation. I looked for my mother, among the bodies taken to the temple. I went back to fishing, then I heard about the dive master training course. I thought it was a good idea, another way to make more money.

Now I am living in the rebuilt family home in Nam Khem. At nights sometimes, someone will think another tsunami is coming. They will yell out. In the dark, with the sea so close, it is easy to become frightened, so usually we will all end up fleeing. I hope the bad nights will end when a tsunami warning system is installed. At the Ecological training Center, we are kept busy and that helps. There have never been many Thai diving instructors until now because it's so expensive to qualify. We learn to dive, to use computers, and improve our English as well as hospitality skills.

In some ways, I'm happier, and I will try to make better life for myself alone.

Klaus Rauter, hotel manager

Klaus Rauter: I want to see it (Thailand) whole again.

Klaus Rauter, resort manager of the Impiana Cabana Phuket in Patong, is an Austrian and long-time resident of Thailand who speaks the language fluently.

Several Patong hotels, including the Holiday Inn and the Absolute Sea Pearl, have been rebuilt since the tsunami. The 76-room Impiana, the oldest hotel in Patong, opened 28 years ago, alongside the beach. The Impiana reopened just in time for the anniversary.

I almost went to Kamala for a swim that morning but decided to head for Surin instead because it has a public toilet by the beach. I was traveling in the car with my two-year-old daughter and we watched the water come sweeping across the old Muslim cemetery, near FantaSea. It is a time that will never be forgotten.

I love Thailand and want to see it whole again. At the resort, we hope to do the simple things right and reposition the Impiana in the market as a boutique destination. We kept paying the staff in full through the rebuilding period. Our aim is for them to let their hair down, literally in some cases, and shake off the stiffness of other upmarket resorts. Relief came rapidly after the tsunami but the reaction of the government sector was slow. Some of our guests were badly injured. Most of those who were hurt are returning for the anniversary.

I am very positive about the future. The attitude towards tourists used to be 'whatever we do to them, they will keep coming.' I think the tsunami changed all that. People in the tourism industry are far more sensitive now.

Porn Pongpanitanont, hospital chief

Porn Pongpanitanont: Still working with orphans.

Porn Pongpanitanont, Director of Takuapa Hospital, Phang Nga

The closest hospital to the hard-hit resorts and villages of the Andaman Coast, Takuapa Hospital became the eye of the storm after the tsunami, dealing with injured by the score.

Our hospital became very crowded on December 26. We stocked enough medical supplies for three months, but we ran out in a few days. However, we quickly found more. All hospitals became involved and over the week, more than 50 mini-buses carried doctors, nurses and volunteers from other provinces to Phang Nga.

Our 400 staff worked non-stop for 48 hours straight and in that first week 2,300 people from more than 20 countries were admitted. We lost six staff who were at home that day. Our staff are still working with orphans in terms of psychology and I am also helping with the identification of unnamed bodies. There are only 900 unnamed now from more than 3,000. That's likely to reduce to 700 by the end of the year.

We had a hospital emergency vehicle that was badly damaged in the tsunami, although the staff inside escaped. We plan to turn it into a monument to the tsunami.

Jorg Thiemann, children's home manager

Jorg Thiemann: Villas being built for homeless families.

Jorg Thiemann, General Manager, Beluga School for Life. The organization cares for 22 orphans and other deprived children in Phang Nga.

The Philanthropic head of a successful German shipping firm decided to establish a home for children and others in Phang Nga after the tsunami.

The owner of Beluga and his Thai partner had already established one residence for deprived children in northern Thailand. After the tsunami they bought land and had a new center built in Phang Nga, not far from the tsunami coast. The aim is to have a hotel on the site to cover the cost.

After the tsunami, some parents brought their children here, then just disappeared. The older kids go to local schools while the younger ones are cared for here and play as a group. Beluga School for Life trains students after school hours by problem-solving and project management.

We compost and recycle whenever possible. We have 22 children here now and when the center is finished, we hope eventually to be able to cater for 180. We have a very liberal outlook and try to help the needy wherever possible. Tourists who come to stay here will live in guest houses and can help with projects if they wish, or just go to the beach.

Some villas are being built to help homeless families, too, and there are already plans for a second hostel for more deprived children not far from here.

Pra Poonsawat, Kamala Wat abbot

Pra Poonsawat: Vistors returning to Buddhist temple.

Pra Poonsawat Tanawuttho is the abbot of the Buddhist temple, or wat, in Kamala, a village on Phuket a few miles north of Patong. He became a monk at the age of 43.

The Kamala Wat has been fully restored with donations from many sources and is now a community focus point as well as being a tsunami trail tourist attraction. The large statue of the Lord Buddha in the wat carries a straight-line moustache, a scar from the high water mark of the tsunami. Three of the five monks at the wat died in the water.

I was in the temple when the water swept through and it carried me out into the open. At the moment when I though I was going to die, I should have been thinking noble thoughts but the image that flashed into my mind was the face of an old girlfriend.

Two of us survived in the water but when we stood up, we realized that our robes had been stripped away. Just then, some fresh robes from the storeroom at the wat came bobbing towards us. My colleague could not live with the sound of the ocean so close, so he moved to a wat in northern Thailand, a long way from the sea. Many groups of people contributed to restoring the wat and it is good to have so many visitors now.

There are 10 monks and I am very grateful to those who allowed our work here to continue.

Michelle Taffe, volunteer

Michelle Taffe: A different attitude to facing obstacles.

Michelle Taffe, an Australian who now lives in Spain, came to Thailand for a holiday but stayed on to help rebuilding.

The Tsunami Volunteer Center on the outskirts of Khao Lak became a landmark as hundreds of volunteers poured in from all over the world and other parts of Thailand. Many are still in the region, helping to rebuild homes and boats especially.

I was lucky enough to get to know some tsunami survivors when I arrived in Khao Lak in February. The so-called "tropical paradise" had been transformed by the waves into something more like a war zone, yet the Thai people's strength in adversity was amazing.

Working side by side, slowly rebuilding their lives, I got to know them and their suffering, which was usually borne with a stoically positive outlook for the future. Having suffered the loss of my brother in a tragic accident five years earlier, I knew the pain of those who had lost family members in an instant. The villagers were grateful for help but I felt the lessons from these people about dealing with life and death far outweighed my contribution.

I now have a different attitude to obstacles and problems that once may have seemed insurmountable.

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