Tsunami memorial a forgotten mess

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2006, 12:00am

Phuket's International Wall of Remembrance, a tribute to the foreign victims of the Boxing Day tsunami, has been allowed to fall into disrepair, with parts of the memorial destroyed by fire.

Just three months ago, the memorial was one of the official mourning sites when the island marked the first anniversary of the disaster.

Britain's Prince Andrew, former US presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Snr and Sweden's King Carl Gustaf are among thousands of visitors who have paid tribute at the site, and mourned the 5,400 victims who died in Thailand.

But today the condition of the long white wall, once plastered with emotional handwritten messages and photos of victims from more than 30 countries, would sadden survivors and relatives of the dead.

Situated at Mai Kaow, a small traditional cemetery towards the undeveloped northern end of the island, the wall was originally constructed to obscure containers holding the bodies of more than 2,000 unidentified victims of the tsunami. But mourners turned the site into a makeshift memorial, scrawling messages on its sides.

It eventually was turned into a semi-permanent memorial by staff of the US-based Kenyon disaster management firm. The wall was one of seven sites chosen by Thai officials for multi-denominational memorial services on the disaster's anniversary.

However, fires - perhaps caused by vandals or untended candles - have destroyed the sections devoted to victims from Britain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.

Memorials for other countries, including Canada and the Philippines, have been broken, perhaps by high winds. The portion of wall devoted to Chinese victims, from the mainland and Hong Kong, is undamaged.

Local officials have so far ignored pleas to either repair the wall, or take it down with appropriate ceremony. The Phuket-based Swedish consul, Christina Palm, said she alerted local authorities to the damage about three weeks ago and was 'surprised and upset' that nothing had been done since.

'I haven't had any relatives contact me yet but I am certain many would be distressed at the condition of the wall,' she said.