Post-Tsunami Phase 1 Relief Work - Thailand - Drake Sprague Photography

I happened to be in Southeast Asia in late 2004 when an earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit coastal regions throughout the Indian Ocean. I had just left Thailand a couple of weeks earlier setting out for Cambodia, and later Vietnam. As I viewed live coverage of the tragic news with updates of rising death tolls from my hotel room in Saigon, I determined that I would assist in some way. Returning to Thailand I managed through connections I had with people involved in relief operations to join a small but growing team of volunteers through TsunamiVolunteer.net. Once I made my way by bus from Bangkok to Phuket, I caught a ride with a friend involved in counseling first responders and other personnel handling human remains. I was astounded as I surveyed the damage while driving along the coast. In some areas water had traveled up to 3 kilometers inland, killing, destroying and displacing everything in its wake. The smell of death permeated the air. The odor triggered memories of my neighborhood in Panama immediately following the intense fighting between the American and Panamanian militaries during Operation Just Cause. I arrived to my new base of operations in Khao Lak, just north of Phuket. It was one of the hardest hit regions along the southern coast of Thailand. There I registered, pitched my tent, was briefed, and given a work assignment. My team was composed of volunteers around the world, and our details mainly focused on phase 1 clean up and reconstruction. My assignment was to build furniture such as book shelves, tables and chairs for use in newly established schools, as many school buildings were destroyed. It was only by God's grace that the tsunami occurred while schools were out for holiday. Yet, as I worked I was constantly reminded of of thousands of souls who were not so fortunate and only recently perished. The material I was using to build these new furnishings was sourced from stockpiles of scrap wood left over from building coffins. 


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