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 CNS Story:

TSUNAMI-LISTEN Jan-3-2005 (780 words) With photos. xxxi

Tsunami survivors find religious personnel source of consolation

By Catholic News Service

KRABI, Thailand (CNS) -- On Thailand's southwestern coast, tsunami survivors, traumatized and shocked by the devastation and loss of their loved ones, poured out their grief to religious personnel.

Construction worker Chaisin Ngodpho-oad told UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand, that he found his wife's corpse Dec. 30, four days after tsunamis hit 12 countries in Asia and Africa.

Survivors told of losing family members, and some told of a woman's baby being trampled to death.

Chaisin was one of the survivors from Phi Phi Island, a popular tourist destination in southern Thailand. Following the tsunamis he was evacuated to Krabi, about 25 miles northeast of the island and 400 miles southwest of Bangkok. The huge waves caused deaths in Krabi, Phangnga, Phuket, Ranong, Satun and Trang provinces.

"Although I had wounds all over my body, I did not feel the pain because the loss of my wife hurt so much," Chaisin said.

Chaisin said he and his wife arrived in Phi Phi from Nong Khai in early December. On Dec. 26, while he and other workers were digging to make a swimming pool, they heard a loud noise that they thought was "a plane crash." He said at the time his wife was resting and listening to music in the workers' huts, about 150 feet from the sea.

Chaisin said when he looked up he saw parts of bungalows being tossed in the air by 30-foot waves. He rushed to reach his wife, but the waves threw him farther inland to the hills. He said he finally succeeded in climbing out of the water and began the search.

On Dec. 27, Chaisin was taken to Krabi, where he found his wife's remains three days later. He said government officials gave him her necklace. Rescue workers had taken her body and other victims to the Krabi Foundation for their loved ones to identify and claim.

Chaisin took his wife's body to be cremated at a Buddhist temple in Krabi.

"I have not been able to eat anything at all, hungry as I am," he said. "I felt terrible that I could not take my wife's body home, since it had decomposed so badly. All I can take home to our three children is her ashes."

Stigmatine Father Pornchai Techapitakhtam, parish priest of St. Agnes Church in Krabi, told UCA News Jan. 3 that Chaisin's story is one of many personal tragedies church workers have heard since Dec. 26.

He said that at the provincial hospital he spoke with survivors who, like Chaisin, were from Nong Khai and had lost children, spouses or other relatives.

Church workers have helped Buddhists take the bodies of family members to temples for cremation, Father Pornchai said. They also provide other assistance, such as the $25 he gave Chaisin to help him return to Nong Khai Jan. 3.

Father Pornchai also has served as a translator for foreign tourists. He said he celebrated Mass for foreign Catholics who lost loved ones and was to conduct a memorial service for a Dutch family who lost their 3-year-old child.

Presentation Sister Petra Darunee Likhittam said her team has been offering assistance to survivors in makeshift centers in Krabi.

The nun said two people told her they dragged a woman to safety as they were trying to scramble up a hill on Phi Phi. The woman, they said, had lost hold of her baby while being pushed by a crowd of people running for their lives. The baby was trampled to death, and the mother had no heart to continue until the two women dragged her to safety, Sister Darunee said.

At the municipal hall in Krabi, the nun and her team, besides listening to the stories of survivors' personal tragedies, helped the still-grieving people fill out government assistance forms.

Immaculate Heart Sister Rosa Supha Suphathongamphai said church workers "were overwhelmed" by the personal tragedies, and that their help is small in light of the enormity of the personal losses they encounter each day. The nun and her team have visited Phangnga, Thailand's hardest-hit province, where more than 3,000 bodies were found.

Sister Darunee said Muslim and Buddhist survivors told her that the visits showed that Catholic personnel cared for them and their future.

Sister Supha said each day before the church workers leave to visit victims, Bishop Prathan Sridarunsil of Surat Thani gathers with them to pray. The bishop, whose diocese covers all 15 provinces in southern Thailand, reminds the church workers they must be "centered with the word of God as they go out."

He told them, "As church workers, we are God's presence among the survivors and victims of the tsunami."


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