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Tsunami Victim Mementos Haunt 10 Years Later
Watches, chunky gold necklaces with Buddhist amulets, and a wad of $1,800 in cash were among the items belonging to the 2004 tsunami victims.
They initially believed the container held the belongings of unidentified victims, but found some items were identification cards and credit cards and could be claimed by relatives.
"I’m a bit surprised by the large number of valuables," Lieutenant Colonel Voravit Yamaree from Takua Pa district said as his team surveyed the items on a long, white table.
"I think back then everyone was so busy focusing on identifying the corpses they may have forgotten about this."
In the aftermath of the tsunami, forensics experts from 39 countries convened in Phang Nga, where about 80 percent of the victims in Thailand perished, to identify the bodies.
The Thai Tsunami Victim Identification unit was considered one of the largest and most successful projects of its kind, putting names and faces to the thousands of tourists, Thais and migrant workers killed in the Boxing Day disaster.
However, 10 years after the one of the most devastating humanitarian disasters in recorded history, about 400 unclaimed bodies – 369 of them still unidentified – rest in metal coffins, marked with coded numbers.
In the past four years, just 24 bodies have been claimed, all but one Thai nationals, according to various reports.
In Ban Nam Khem, a sleepy fishing village on the north end of Phang Nga, the tsunami left 661 dead and 765 missing.
Ban Nam Khem resident Hin Chan-ngern lost five family members in the tsunami - his wife, brother and three daughters. In the three years after the disaster, four of their bodies were found, but his eldest daughter remains among the missing.
"We provided all of the information – dental records, tissue and DNA samples ... but they still can't find her. I don't know what more I can do," said Hin, sitting amid photos of his loved ones killed in the tsunami.
The graveyard, with a metal plaque at the gate listing the nations involved in the project, is often overgrown with weeds.
Of the bodies there, authorities have identified 26 Thais and 26 Burmese, but their families have not come to claim their bodies, according to Colonel Yuthaphong Intaraphone, the police superintendent overseeing the Police Forensic Science Office.