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Hundreds of Thai tsunami victims yet to be identified, 15 years on

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Two tourists comfort each other during a memorial service to mark the tenth anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami, in Phang-nga province on December 26, 2014. AFP

Phang-nga province (Bangkok Post) – Fifteen years after the Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 230,000 people on Boxing Day, 2004, a cargo container at a police station in the southern province bears witness to the hundreds of victims whose remains were never identified.

Inside are personal items — wallets, documents, electronics, all bagged and labelled as evidence — that police hope might one day help to give a name and a proper resting place to those buried nearby in graves marked only by numbers.

“There are still more relatives of the victims, both near and far, that have hopes of finding their lost loved ones,” said Pol Col Khemmarin Hassini, the deputy police commander at Takua Pa police station in Takua Pa district, one of the areas hardest hit by the December 26 tsunami.

Triggered by a massive 9.1-magnitude earthquake, the tsunami killed more than 230,000 people as waves as high as 17.4 metres crashed onto the shores of more than a dozen countries, wiping some communities off the map in seconds.

In Thailand, where more than 5,000 people died, the Disaster Victim Identification unit involving police and forensic experts from 30 countries was able to identify more than 3,600 bodies in under two years, the largest and most successful project of its kind.

Pol Col Khemmarin was part of that international team, but he said 15 years later a lot of the “communication channels have shut down” and leads had been lost.

“If we are determined enough and reactivate our operations once again, I think some of the 340 unidentified bodies could be identified,” he told Reuters in Takua Pa town.

Hin Temna, 76, who lives in nearby Ban Nam Khem, lost seven family members killed and his oldest daughter remains missing. They were among more than 1,500 people from the village who died in the disaster.

“There’s no use to keep hoping [I will find my daughter]. I don’t think we will,” he said.

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