in the rescue operation in the affected provinces. The
including records of the bodies condition and descriptions,
Army and private telecommunication enterprises de
accessories, etc., so that relatives could check and claim
ployed satellite vehicles to support the communica
them. A DNA search and matching centre was estab
tion system. Thai volunteers provided extraordinary
lished to enable matching of DNA from relatives with
assistance in the SAR operations.
that collected from corpses. The Ministry of Information
and Communication Technology also set up an official
The government set up a crisis coordination centre in
website to make available DNA information on tsunami
Phuket. Immediately thereafter, all the affected provinces
victims to help identify them. Authorities even installed
set up crisis centres at provincial city halls to provide
microchips in about 1,000 bodies pending claim by
assistance to the thousands of victims and their families,
relatives to facilitate identification.
including foreign tourists needing to be evacuated
and repatriated. Twenty four hour call centres were
4,148 bodies had been identified by October 2005;
set up to provide information on the dead and missing.
1,247 bodies still remained to be identified.
To coordinate information on the missing, a special
communication system was set up to link relief op
Box 1 An Insider s Account of Work in the
eration centres in Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga.
Morgue at Wat Yanyao
Many countries sent in search and rescue workers, and
Many foreign tourists who survived the disaster
military deployments with specialized boats, helicopters
spoke highly of the compassion and hospitality
and equipment. Divers from several countries assisted
that the Thai people showed after the killer waves
in the search for survivors and bodies. More than 2,900
struck. Tributes were also paid to many Thai volunteers
survivors were rescued and over 100 dead bodies were
who worked tirelessly on the difficult task of iden
recovered from the sea during this time.
tification of bodies. After several days of work they
were still touching corpses only after a "Wai" (paying
Coping with the Large Number of Fatalities
respect with folded hands) and saying "Khaw Thot"
(sorry) to express how deep was their respect for
An immediate priority was to deal with the large
the victims. In the midst of this enormous tragedy
number of dead bodies, more than half of them of
they remained very human. As one foreign volunteer
foreigners. The RTG launched the most extensive
who worked alongside on identification of bodies
forensic operation in history to identify the bodies of
at Wat Yanyao said on leaving "We thank you, our
the tsunami victims. Six forensic teams were immediately
Thai friends, for your politeness and humanity and
mobilised. Police teams were established to facilitate
for the expertise that you put at the disposal of
the collection of DNA data to help identify the dead
the victims. Cremating them would have been easier,
bodies. The Department of Disaster Prevention and
but you accepted our strange requests not to."
Mitigation announced guidelines for the Thai Police
and Provincial Governors on repatriation procedures
Source: The Nation, 15 January 2005
for the bodies of foreigners, and the issuing of death
Assistance to Foreign Tourists
The temple of Wat Yanyao in Phang Nga was transformed
Within 10 days of the disaster the Immigration Bureau
into a massive makeshift morgue, with Dr. Khunying
had assisted almost 5,000 victims, mostly foreigners,
Porntip, the foremost forensic specialist of Thailand,
to return home, helping thousands of tourists who had
heading a corpse clearing centre established there to
lost all their belongings, including their passports. The
identify the bodies, supported by volunteers and
Immigration Bureau also set up centres at airport arrival
NGOs. Another makeshift morgue was set up at Wat
halls to assist the foreigners arriving to check on their
Ban Muang, also in Phang Nga.
families and friends killed, injured or missing. The RTG
waived visa extension fees for foreigners who needed
The Government issued an appeal to individuals and
to overstay as a result of the disaster and paid tourists
organizations for help in retrieving victims bodies.
airfare in case they needed assistance to return home.
DNA samples, fingerprints, and dental records were
The RTG provided emergency assistance of USD 243
obtained from each corpse to enable identification,
for each foreign tourist, as well as accommodation,