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Thailand Recovers One Year After Tsunami

It has been one year since the earthquake and tsunami killed nearly one quarter-million people and devastated local economies in southern Asia. Thailand was among the four worst-hit countries. Bangkok-based Correspondent Scott Bobb visited some communities along Thailand's Andaman coast and found that some victims have recovered fairly well, while others are still struggling.

Khun Ulay is back on Phuket Island's Patong Beach, selling drinks and renting beach chairs.

Business is picking up on Phuket's most popular beach. Khun Ulay is making 70 to 100 dollars a day now, much better than in the months after the Indian Ocean tsunami one year ago.

"Business now is good,” she says. “Many people come to the beach. After the tsunami, there was no business."

The tsunami killed an estimated 5,000 people along Thailand's Indian Ocean resorts, and drove away tourists, the lifeblood of the region's economy.

Khun Buy operates a stall in a food court. She nearly died in the giant waves, and her business was swept away.

In the weeks after the disaster she sold bottled water and hot drinks heated on a gas burner to survive. But she has rebuilt her business.

"Business, now? It's OK, 55,” she told us. “I make six or seven thousand Baht ($150 US) a day.”

Tourism Association Vice President Kitti Patanachinda says Phuket Island was 90 percent unhurt by the giant waves and is now 99 percent rebuilt. But hotel occupancy is only about 50 percent of capacity and one-fifth of the businesses folded during the past year.

"Even though they were not physically hit by the tsunami, because of the economic downturn and business downturn, forced them to close down, like the small travel agents, tour counters, restaurants, and even some hotels."

The tsunami was more devastating in neighboring Pangna Province, to the north. It destroyed 80 percent of the hotels and today, of the 1200 remaining rooms, only 300 are rented.

The local fishing industry was also hard hit by the tsunami. In the village of Nam Khem, 600 people were killed and most people lost their homes.

Several thousand of them were housed in Ban Muang camp, first in tents and then in temporary shelters.

Today, most of the fishing boats are back at sea and the port is operating again. Many evacuees have left the camp, some to new homes in Nam Khem, built by the Thai military and private donors.

But some victims still languish in the camps.

Khun Boonruen lived in Nam Khem for 30 years but she does not dare to return. She is afraid of another wave.

Khun Vilailak says people have no work, no money. The army built her a house in Nam Khem but she cannot move in because it floods. And it is small and she has a big family.

Khun Rattiya lost one of her daughters to the tsunami and her husband lost his job at a local shrimp farm. Nobody is building her a new house, she says, because although she lived in Nam Khem, she is registered in another province and her name is not on the list.

Mr. Kitti of the Tourism Association says the tsunami gave residents a good lesson.

"The thing it taught us is we have to be a better manager. We have to be well-prepared all the time because you never know what will happen," said Mr. Kitti.

Aid is reaching some of the victims of the tsunami. But others have received little or no help. And many are struggling silently with grief and trauma. As a result, experts say it will be years before the region fully recovers.