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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 December 2005, 14:22 GMT
Thailand rebuilds after tsunami
By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Khao Lak

Patong beach, Phuket
Patong beach, on the island of Phuket, is full of tourists again
On the morning of 26 December 2004, Chitladda Sornin's world came crashing to a halt.

Her family's holiday complex in Khao Lak, Thailand, was completely destroyed by the huge Asian tsunami. More than 30 staff and guests lost their lives, including her aunt.

I first met Chitladda soon after the disaster, when she was grief-stricken and in despair. But even then, she said she was determined to rebuild.

Less than a year later, she has achieved her aim. Nangthong resort is again open for business, with Chitladda herself standing at the front desk waiting to greet those guests brave enough to return.

Water fountains feed into the newly-restored swimming pool, lush green grass gives way to a large sandy beach, and if you ignore the wreckage of neighbouring resorts you could almost forget the havoc wrought by the tsunami.

Nangthong is the first resort in the area to have reopened its doors, and is already 70% full.

Chitladda's resort - then and now

"I am surprised so many people are coming back so soon," said Ms Sornin. "Many of them even ask to stay right next to the beach."

The newly-built resort is largely the same as it was before, but there are several crucial differences.

For one thing, the bungalows are further away from the beach, a new requirement under Thai law.

Despite access to a sophisticated warning system in the area, linked to satellite data from around East Asia, the Nangthong is leaving nothing to chance.

"We employ a guard every night to watch the sea. He looks about to the ocean with spotlights, and if something happens, he will sound an alarm," said Ms Sornin.

Open for business

The rapid rebuilding seen at the Nangthong resort over the past year has been repeated along the length of Thailand's west coast, an area heavily dependent on income from tourism.

The large multinational hotels along Patong Beach, on the island of Phuket, were among the first to rebuild.

On this main street, more than 700 people died
Phorntip Phuviriyasamakki

Patong was not affected as badly as Khao Lak, and the resort's main tourist strip now looks as if the tsunami never touched it.

Deckchairs on the beach are full of holidaymakers; bars and restaurants are doing a brisk trade; and the only reminders of the disaster are the commemorative DVDs and T-shirts for sale on every street corner.

But away from the tourist areas, it is still easy to see that a major disaster has taken place along this stretch of coastline.

Members of the Thai army, together with local and foreign volunteers, are still trying to rebuild houses for the tens of thousands of local people made homeless by the tsunami.

While there is obviously much to be done, with some people still living in hastily-built temporary shelters, most people have now been able to move back to their villages, to live in proper homes.

Amnaj Phuviriyasamakki and his wife have recently returned to the village of Baan Nam Khem, which lost more than 60% of its inhabitants to the tsunami.

After just a month in their new house - built on the exact site of their old property - they are still unsure about whether they made the right decision to return.

"In some ways I was happy to come back," said Mr Amnaj. "Before the tsunami we had a small restaurant, and we've been able to open one up again. It's given us something to focus on."

But his wife Phornthip is nervous about being back in an area where she lost so many friends and relatives.

"I still feel sad thinking about all the people who have gone," she added. "On this main street, more than 700 people died."

"Before, I used to come back from the market and say hello to people on the way back. Now there is no-one to say hello to."

Land battles

Even if they want to return, some people living along the Thai coast face other, more practical, hurdles.

The villagers of Laem Pom are locked in a legal battle with a large multinational firm which says it owns the land on which their old homes once stood, and wants to use it to build a golf course and luxury hotel.

Baan Nam Khem
Baan Nam Khem has been rebuilt, but some do not want to return

"After the tsunami, we wanted to come back to look for bodies, but we had to fight with police because they wouldn't let us in," said one inhabitant, Yupin Chortpatpad.

Eventually the villagers gained temporary access, and many of their homes have now been rebuilt - but the case has yet to be decided conclusively by the courts.

Nearly a year after the tsunami, there are still many problems facing people living and working along the western Thai coastline.

Rebuilding is well under way, and in some areas has already been completed. Analysts are optimistic that, given time, tourist levels will return to normal and the area will once again be the beach paradise advertised in brochures around the world.

But the emotional scars left by the tsunami will take much longer to heal.

"This last year was very bad," said Chitladda Sornin. "We're now more hopeful for the future, but I'll never forget what happened - I don't think anyone here can."

For previous reports on Chitladda Sornin's year, click on these links:


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