Yesterday I walked through the devastated ruins of luxury
hotels and beachside resorts at Khao Lak Beach on the Andaman Coast in
western Thailand. Henrik Blomme was there on December 26 when a 10 meter
high tsunami hit. I know because I found his American Express Corporate
credit card from the Ericsson Group in Sweden.
The resort must have been beautiful. Built low with
separate villas facing the sea, each was positioned to enjoy the view of
impossibly blue seas and skies to its fullest. Only a fine line of sand
seems to separate the two. Draperies still hung in the windows of the hotel
villas, and I saw a piece here and there on the ground of carved teak.
Amazingly, windows on the third level were intact in some of the villas.
drives his yellow plastic go-cart around the play area. He is one of the
more lucky ones.
I couldn’t find Henrik Blomme’s name on any of the
Missing, Injured or Dead lists that are all over the internet, nor could I
find him listed on any of the bulletin boards at the airport and the
government complex. But I found his wife. Mr. Blomme and his two teen-aged
children survived. Kristina Blomme did not. According to The Guardian
(Guardian Newspapers, 1/4/2005) Mr. Blomme dug through the rubble, posted
notices and frantically searched hospitals and emergency centers. Then he
took his children and went home to Sweden.
I didn’t know any of this when I slipped his American
Express card in my pocket, but I felt a little sad at seeing evidence of a
real person who had obviously been on vacation in that very spot. Until
then, I had only seen the destruction left by the tsunami – big chunks of
concrete and splintered wood, overturned vehicles and enormous palm trees
scattered like pickup sticks all over the beach. It had seemed unreal.
story could ‘he’ tell us?
We watched pumps removing the last of the water from
ponds that had been part of the landscaping. Big excavators were moving onto
the property as we left. Across the road, a bus housing the remains of 37
travelers was towed out of a pond, and seven other vehicles were marked by
white flags for removal. TV crews had filmed the whole operation. Thai
villagers, their faces full of sympathy, stood watching as the forensic team
began removing the bodies.
We passed the resort where the King’s grandson died,
and then one almost untouched. In some areas the water crossed the highway
and destroyed buildings almost a mile from the beach. A Thai navy vessel is
parked far from the sea, and has become a favorite photo spot for travelers.
It was a quiet drive to the big camp set up for survivors of this terrible
disaster. The young Thai woman with me had never seen a disaster of such
like this are ‘the positive ones’. A sure sign that somebody survived,
but there are still many people who haven’t given up hope and look for the
What I saw at Bang Meuang Camp, one of several camps set
up immediately following the tsunami, made my heart lighter. While donated
clothing is piled high on the ground, evidence of an immediate but
disorganized response by local people, the influence of public health
officials and skilled volunteers is strong. Running and bottled water,
electricity, clean toilet facilities equipped with tissue are all available
to both the displaced people living there and the staff and volunteers
helping them. They should serve the needs of a temporary camp, so I hope
that Bang Meuang does not become a permanent village.
are everywhere, bringing good spirit and help to those who, only three weeks
ago, were living normal lives.
Volunteers were unloading trucks full of donated food,
medicine, bottled water and rice. I saw a family in a van giving more rice
cookers than I could count to one of the relief organizations. Christian
foundations were helping sort out the lists upon lists of missing and
injured people. Thai Buddhist foundations were providing hands-on assistance
with childcare, filling out forms for officials, cleaning baby bottles and
dishes. Nursing and public health students and their professors were
checking blood pressure, examining wounds and making baby formula. The
surviving parents and children from Baan Nam Kem had constructed homes under
the big tents, rooms sectioned off for privacy by plastic bags.
Small children were attending kindergarten classes in
another tent, and one section had been carefully roped off to allow nursing
mothers to have a modicum of privacy. The children’s artwork was hung on
one wall of the tent, and an amazing air of normalcy prevailed in the
I smiled as little Dang narrowly avoided my toes while
driving his yellow plastic go-cart around the play area. His whole family
survived. I laughed at little Noi’s chuckles when her father tickled her.
Only she and her dad survived. He calls her his “treasure”. And there
were a lot of treasures in that little village where over 100 children
perished from a school that houses 500.
I am heartened by the caring and by the way the children are being
protected, by the hope in the faces of the survivors. I wasn’t alone.
Media people moved very respectfully through the camp, noticing and pointing
out to each other the many acts of kindness. Children played. Women mended
the donated clothing. Men opined. Thailand is healing, a process that will
be slow but a process that shows the heart of the Thai people.