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Rites for the dead as clean-up continues

by KULTIDA SAMABUDDHI, Bangkok Post, Jan 27, 2005

Phangnga, Thailand -- Religious ceremonies were held yesterday in Phangnga and Phuket to mark the passing of one month since Thailand's most devastating natural disaster left 5,400 people dead and 3,100 missing.

<< A monk of the Mahanika Buddhist sect from Wat Uthai Ratbamrung in Bangkok's Yaowarat performs religous rites for tsunami victims in front of La Flora resort hotel, Khao Lak, one month after it was hard hit by the tsunami. ? SAROT MEKSOPHAWANNAKUL

In Phangnga, monks from a Chinese Buddhist sect were invited to pray for spirits of the dead.

In Phuket, 25 Buddhist monks led a solemn ceremony at Mai Khao mortuary to consecrate the International Repatriation Centre from where foreign tsunami victims will be returned to their families once they have been identified.

Aranya Daopiset, owner of La Flora, one of the hardest-hit luxury resorts at Khao Lak, said inviting the monks to pray for hotel guests and staff who died helped comfort her and other survivors who had to continue working at the hotel.

Thirteen hotel employees and 10 guests were found dead at the hotel, which opened for business only three months before the waves struck.

The body of Khun Poom Jensen, 21, the only son of Princess Ubolratana, was found about 100 metres from the hotel where he, his elder sister Khun Ploypailin Jensen and his cousin Princess Siribhachudhabhorn were vacationing.

''We are repairing the hotel buildings. Hopefully, La Flora will be the first hotel here to reopen, before the arrival of this year's high season,'' said Mrs Aranya, who refused to reveal the cost.

Chaiyoot Trongkamoltum, a hotel executive, said he was satisfied with the government's clean-up operation and its efforts to revive tourism along the Andaman coast.

However, the government should focus more on reassuring worried tourists about the structural safety of tsunami-hit hotel buildings and the cleanliness of food and water.

''The Tourism Authority of Thailand has received billions of baht from the government to restore tourism in the six tsunami-hit provinces and should organise roadshows and tourism campaigns in Scandinavian countries. A large number of tourists come from there to Phangnga and Phuket,'' he said.

The commemoration at Mai Khao mortuary, was organised by Texas-based Kenyon International Emergency Services, a disaster management company responsible for the repatriation of foreign tsunami victims.

More than 300 bodies of westerners are being kept in 26 refrigerated containers at the mortuary, which has turned into an open-air autopsy and forensic unit of the international Disaster Victims Identification team.

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