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 CNS Story:

TSUNAMI-REDTAPE Jan-6-2005 (750 words) With photos. xxxi

In Thailand, red tape frustrates tsunami survivors, church workers

By Catholic News Service

KRABI, Thailand (CNS) -- Government red tape is frustrating not only tsunami survivors but also church workers trying to get financial help to those whose homes have been ruined but who lack proper documentation.

Sacred Heart Sister Marasi Junchalor said the government's insistence on paperwork was limiting the speed and efficiency with which aid could be provided to Thais from Phi Phi Island, devastated by the Dec. 26 waves.

Sister Marasi said she is so frustrated that she wants to "curse" government officials for an "insane" bureaucracy. She spoke to UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.

"It is as if the trauma, shock and anxiety from the ordeal are not enough. The government now asks survivors to run around filling out forms and providing legal documents to get money to replace their destroyed homes," she said.

On Jan. 6, Sister Marasi led nuns from various congregations to a mosque in Krabi, about 400 miles southwest of Bangkok. The survivors from Phi Phi Island, about 25 miles southeast of Krabi, gather daily at the mosque for meals and to collect other assistance.

About 600 Phi Phi survivors, mostly Muslims, have been resettled to a Muslim section of Krabi, she said. She described every home the nuns visited as crammed with more than 20 people, reflecting the fact that the government has not put up any temporary shelters.

She also said that Catholics nuns were visiting the mosque to help about 50 families apply for government grants that would benefit those whose homes were destroyed.

Sister Marasi said she appreciates that the government needs proper documentation from the survivors, but she feels sorry for them because they lost everything.

"When you don't have money to travel, it is hard to go to government offices to fill out application forms," she said.

Valaiporn Taiyeam, a Phi Phi Island native, told UCA News the government normally gives about $125 to people whose homes were partially damaged. But Valaiporn, who lost six relatives in the tsunami, said that with Sister Marasi's help she went to government places to apply for a grant that would help her replace her destroyed house.

Valaiporn said that a problem arose because her home was never registered with the local administration and has no address. Many homes of her Lolana village on the island also were not registered, she said.

Sister Marasi said she is helping Valaiporn by looking for people the Muslim woman knows to complete an affidavit that Valaiporn and her 18-month-old child are from Lolana.

"We have done the application for Valaiporn, but I don't know if it will help her get the grant," she said.

Bishop Joseph Prathan Sridarunsil of Surat Thani, who set up the relief effort, told UCA News that about 50 families are in the same situation as Valaiporn, with no registered addresses for their huts.

Sister Marasi said that when she and other nuns walk each day from home to home they see "most people are still dazed, discouraged and feel very depressed from their ordeal."

Valaiporn said her baby and nephews "scream and run every time they hear the crash of waves or any other loud noise." She said adults also are startled by loud noises.

Valaiporn was related to all of the 16 families living in Lolana, located about 650 feet from the sea.

She said the tsunami sounded like "a helicopter." When it hit, she looked up and saw her sister-in-law and son swallowed by 30-foot waves. She then rushed to help her grandfather, 84, and her grandmother, in her 70s, in another hut.

Valaiporn's relatives had already taken her baby to higher ground, she said, so she was trying to drag her grandfather to safety, but he was so heavy she could not move him. Her grandmother also moved very slowly, she said.

As she struggled to move them, waves of water rushed over their hut. The water was up to her neck as the three clung together, she said. The waves wedged the hut against a coconut tree but finally receded.

In all, six relatives were killed, she said. Survivors were evacuated to Krabi Dec. 30.

Valaiporn said she does not know if she will return to Phi Phi Island, where she was born.

"At night, I still have nightmares about the ordeal," she said.

The Thai government said more than 5,000 people, nearly half of them foreigners, were killed in the tsunamis that hit Thai coasts.

Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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