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Parts of Thailand Showing Signs of Recovery from Tsunami

One of the first regions to show signs of recovery from southern Asia's devastating earthquake and tsunami is Thailand's southwestern province of Phuket.

Along Phuket Island's Patong Beach, workers are rebuilding shops and restaurants that were gutted two weeks ago by the giant waves of water.

Khun Bui, a 45 year-old owner of a food kiosk on the central beachfront, is one of those trying to put back together her life and livelihood. As her nephews rebuild the new counter for her gas cooker, she stands on the breezeway outside her shop, selling tea and cold drinks from a table.

Khun Bui says the tsunami swept away everything in her shop that Sunday morning, but everyone in her family survived. "Tsunami no good. I no work. Thailand no have," he says.

In front of the food court, the beach has been swept clean of dirt and debris left by the tsunami. A few tourists relax on the white sand. A few of the young men who rent jet skis and a few of the ladies who provide massages on the beach are back, but there are few customers.

The government has banned beach chairs, umbrellas and vendors from the beach for now. As a result, longtime residents say it looks like it did 20 years ago, before Phuket became a world class tourist destination and major foreign exchange earner for the Thai government.

Debris still litters the beach road, but it is gradually being cleared and the city is working to restore water and electricity to this part of town.

The wall of water one-story high wiped out the ground-level floors of virtually all the buildings facing the beach. And it swept debris several hundred meters up the alleys into the town. But the back streets were not hit and businesses there are open as usual.

Shop owners are rebuilding shelves and display cases as quickly as they can, hoping to salvage some business before the high season ends in April.

Tawansak Patiyasewi, who has owned a ceramics shop on the beach road for 20 years, says some owners have the money to hire others to do the work, but he and his wife do not and so are working alone to rebuild their business. They still live in their apartment above the shop though it is without running water. Nevertheless, he is hopeful. "Slowly, it will take time to re-build the shops, the hotels, fill up the hotels. So it will take, I think, about three months," he says.

Some of the hardest hit hotels have closed for renovation and probably will not re-open for months, but many are still open.

One of these is the Club Andaman hotel. Its grounds were flooded by the tsunami, but its buildings were not damaged. Manager Adison Sittiwong, who survived the waves that morning, says that after days of cleaning things are getting back to normal. "Eighty percent of the hotels in Phuket are operating normally, except for 10 to 20 percent, some badly damaged, some slightly damaged. In February, we will be recovering," he says.

Occupancy rates are 10 percent of capacity or less. But he says travel agents are beginning to make bookings again and repeat visitors have promised to return. Nevertheless, he fears that most of the high season - when the tourism industry makes 80 percent of its annual profits - will be lost.

About 100 kilometers up the coast in Khao Lak, which was much harder-hit - workers are still recovering bodies of the several thousand missing people and relief agencies are struggling to provide food and shelter to tens of thousands of homeless. But officials say they are about to pass the crisis stage.

Survivors are starting to move from tents into temporary housing and they are receiving food and clothing. This week children in the area returned to school.

As a result, signs of normalcy are showing in these communities, although the atmosphere of shock and trauma are likely to remain for a long time.

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