December 25, 2005

Tsunami survivors coping with anniversary

By Darren Schuettler

PHUKET, Thailand (Reuters) - Pigge Werkelin had to come
back. Steve Fitzgerald wants to be as far away as possible.

On the eve of the Asian tsunami's anniversary, the grief
felt by many survivors or relatives was too strong for them to
return for memorial events in Thailand, where 5,395 died on its
beaches, including 2,092 foreigners.

But others, although still haunted by the tragedy, say
being here will help them to cope on Monday.

"I think you need to come back," said Werkelin, a Swedish
businessman whose two young sons, Max and Charlie, and wife
Ulrika were killed less than an hour after they checked into
their beach bungalow in Khao Lak last year.

"You need to go to the beach, you have to see children on
the beach, you have to see everything. The elephants you were
riding with the kids, the restaurants," he told Reuters.

"I must do it and then afterward I can put it behind me,"
said Werkelin, 44, who was reunited this week with an American
woman and two Thai students who helped him last year.

His book about that horrific day, "Khao Lak -- 10:31 a.m.,"
a reference to the time the waves hit, has sold 27,000 copies
with the proceeds going to help tsunami victims in Thailand.

He will never forget the churning water he barely survived.

"I saw my wife 10 metres (yards) from me and she had my
youngest boy by his hand. She asked me: Do you have Charlie?
And I looked around and it was the last thing I saw of them
before I found them dead," Werkelin said.

With 543 killed, Sweden was the worst hit of any country
outside Asia and some 400 Swedish survivors and relatives are
expected to attend a special ceremony in Khao Lak on Monday.

But Werkelin and another Swedish survivor -- the two
launched a boat-building project for fishermen in Khao Lak --
will mark the day privately at a beach with photos of their
loved ones.


On Phi Phi, backdrop to the backpacker cult movie "The
Beach," New Zealander Mark Smith was back in the water this
week for the first time since the tsunami he survived a year

"I find that whenever I go near the coast these days, I
always have one eye on the horizon," said Smith, 29, his left
arm still bearing massive scars from when he clung to a
concrete pillar to avoid being dragged out to sea.

Fellow Kiwi Jesse Lewis Evans, 24, said coming back was
hard, "but I'm very glad I did it. If I hadn't come back, I
probably would have regretted it for the rest of my life."

Groups helping foreign families said the Christmas period
would be especially tough, with many relatives still struggling
to come to grips with their loss.

"For people who lose someone, the first year is always the
hardest. You go through it all alone," said Knut E. Pedersen,
who is assisting Norwegian survivors and relatives.

For some, returning to Thailand was too painful.


"We're trying to work out how to survive the 26th,"
Fitzgerald, whose daughter Anna, 23, died on Phi Phi, said by
telephone from London, where he flew his grieving family to be
with relatives and friends.

"I decided to get as far away from anything to do with the
sea, beaches, islands, anything like that," he said, adding
that the past year had been "dreadful."

His daughter Kate, who was on Phi Phi with her sister, had
12 operations on her legs before she could walk again.

"The first four months was trying to get my youngest child
to live and then to walk. Then to deal with her emotional
issues, and then deal with our emotional issues," he said.

Unlike Sweden, where the large death toll and the
government's slow response to the plight of Swedes has kept the
tsunami in the spotlight, the disaster has not had the same
resonance in South Africa, which lost 12 people.

"I think it's something that only if you have been there,
do you have any comprehension as to what it was like," he said.

(additional reporting by Ed Cropley)