12/28/2004, 00.00
THAILAND
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Parish priest in Phuket: "A tragedy, worst hit are the poor"

by Weena Kowitwanij

Bishop of Surat Thani says there are hundreds of bodies on the beach, some even in the trees.  Children roam the streets looking for their parents.  Food, medicine, clothes and blood needed.  The Church is working with the government on relief measures.

Phuket (AsiaNews) -- "Today, I'll be busy blessing the bodies of the victims.  We are going through a tragedy".  This is how Father Peter Bancha Apichartvorakul, pastor of the Catholic Church of the

Assumption in Phuket describes the situation in his country, in remarks to AsiaNews, following the undersea quake that devastated southern Asia last Sunday.  Fr Bancha says that "clothes, shoes, but above all rice, eggs and vegetables to feed a lot of people" are most needed at the moment.  He stresses that the real victims, in what is held to be one of Thailand's tourism paradises, are the local inhabitants.  "I'm concerned about the fishing families and the very poor who earn a living by selling souvenirs and drinks to the tourists: these people have lost their homes, their jobs and their loved ones".  Fr. Bancha says that there is even greater concern for those living in Khaolak (a village of fishermen some 30 km from Phuket), where there is the risk of further quakes.

Msgr Joseph Pratan Sridarunsil, Bishop of Surat Thani Diocese, shares the same concerns.  Following a visit to Khaolak and the beach at Ban Kating, he said that hundreds of corpses scatter the beaches.  "Volunteers are taking them to a nearby Buddhist temple.   Due to the lack of space, some are being left on the lawn in front of the temple: many cannot be identified".  The bishop tells of bodies in trees and children wandering the streets looking for their parents.  He reiterates the pressing need for sanitary material, medicine, clothes, blankets, but also psychologists to help the desperate.  Today, Bishop Pratan will report on his visit to Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu, president of the Thai Catholic Bishops' Conference and will ask to "coordinate an aid network for immediate relief and later for the reconstruction of homes, bridges and schools".

The Catholic Foundation of Sura Thani is working with the government and local organizations on humanitarian assistance.  At the bishop's request, all religious, priests and nuns, will visit the disaster areas to determine what is most needed by survivors.  "My motto is "fiat voluntas tua", the bishop said, "I have not lost the hope that God will help us through these difficult times and for this reason I am committed to helping those who are suffering.

The same call to action comes from Thailand's Caritas, known locally as Coers, which is concerned about how to best carry out relief activities.  "There are so many victims and in many areas," said Caritas' director Fr Phiboon Visitnantachai, "We need more volunteers and financial resources".

Coers has sent 1000 euros to each of the 7 provinces struck by disaster.  The Red Cross in Thailand is appealing for blood donations; the Rh- group is especially needed.  Volunteer doctors and nurses are being flown free of charge to disaster sites.

In Thailand, more than 1000 people died as a result of sea surges in the south.  Father Pornchai Techapitaktham, pastor of Saint Agnes Church in Krabi, said that the 30 families of his parish are all safe because at the moment of the disaster they were attending Sunday Mass inland and were not in their homes closer to the coast.

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