December 28, 2004

Tsunami deaths.

Terrible, tragic pictures of the dead appear today. The NYT paper edition has a photograph of a floor covered with the bodies of children. With colorful blankets wrapped around them, and one boy's arm reaching over to another's shoulder, they would look as though they were sleeping, were it not for the grieving woman in the corner.

The NYT reports:
The deaths from the disaster - which climbed today to more than 35,000 and many unaccounted for as Sri Lanka and Indonesia increased their confirmed tolls - came into sharper relief on a day when it seemed increasingly clear that at least a third of the dead were children, according to estimates by aid officials...

The realization began to emerge today that the dead included an exceptionally high number of children who, aid officials suggested, were least able to grab onto trees or boats when the deadly waves smashed through villages and over beaches. Children make up at least half the population of Asia.

Were children more vulnerable than others? If children are half (or more) of the population and a third of the dead, they might appear to be less vulnerable. But many who died were those who were out in boats when the waves hit, and many were tourists in search of peace on remote, tiny islands:
"All of the fishermen who went to sea haven't come back," said Yusuf Ismail, a spokesman for the president [of Somalia].

In Thailand, the government said 918 people had died, 7,396 were injured and thousands were missing, mostly on small resort islands or among boatloads of recreational divers who had headed out to sea in the morning before the wave struck...

The smaller island of Phi Phi Lei, which was the scene of the movie "The Beach," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was reported to have been mostly leveled. On another small island, the proprietors of the elite Phra Thong Resort said only 70 of 170 guests were accounted for."

The incongruous appearance of Leonardo DiCaprio in so many of the news stories may strike some as an offensive intrusion of our obsession with glamorous celebrities, but I think the real point here is that the movie stirred travelers' interest in the remote islands of Thailand. See this "eco tourism" site about Phra Thong (which is translated as "Golden Buddha"). Here's the Golden Buddha Beach Resort's site, which still has its original material, with an added note:

Nothing happens on clicking, though. Here, at least now, are some pictures of the resort:
The concept of Golden Buddha Beach was about putting dreams into reality. This special corner of Thailand is managed quite differently to other resorts. Those that wanted their own property and also to be a part of retaining Koh Phra Thong's natural environment could purchase from an ecologically-minded property developer, Lost Horizons.

Presumably, these things are all truly lost now, along with many of the people drawn to a place that promised the most beautiful, peaceful escape.

There is great sadness for all who have died -- the vacationers in search of peace, the fishermen out on a day's work, and the many children and ordinary people near their homes.

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