BAN NAM KHEM, Thailand (Reuters) – Suvadee Sukkasem is still searching for her son who vanished when the Indian Ocean tsunami turned this tropical paradise into a mass grave for thousands of Thais and foreign vacationers nearly five years ago.
Although the sea now frightens her, she refuses to leave her beachside village in southern Thailand, holding out hope for the return of her son, who was four years old when the towering wave crashed ashore with little warning on December 26, 2004.
As the world prepares to mark the fifth anniversary of the tsunami that killed 226,000 people in 13 Asian and African countries, scars have yet to heal even after homes have been rebuilt, tourists have returned and foreign aid has ended.
Ban Nam Khem, a small fishing village on Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast, lost nearly half its 5,000 people. Today it is a shell of its former self despite an outpouring of aid in one of the largest foreign fund-raising exercises in history.
Its once-thriving center of dense waterfront stores, restaurants and wooden homes is gone, replaced with souvenir shops, a wave-shaped monument and a small building filled with photographs of the tsunami recovery effort.
“So many people here are still looking for their family,” said Suvadee, a slight, 43-year-old woman with an easy smile and weathered hands that clutched worn photographs of her son.
“The village is scared of the sea, but we don’t know where to go. We live in new homes, but it is difficult. I don’t think I could ever leave here knowing my son has never been found.”
She also finds comfort with neighbors who lost family.