Reporter's Notebook: Volunteers Help Out

Foreign volunteers in Thailand — many of them tourists who came here to vacation — are an essential force working hard to restore normalcy to the country's tsunami-hit south.

There are volunteers from all over the world and much of their work is grueling and gruesome. I met one family in Phuket (search) more than a week ago. They were on vacation when the tsunami hit and decided to stay despite the destruction.

I came across the family nine days later in Khao Lak (search) where they were locating bodies, moving debris and delivering food and water to survivors. Their trip has been rewarding in a way none of them could ever imagine, but horrific too.

I also met an American Vietnam War veteran named Sandy who has lived in northern Thailand for 20 years. Before the tsunami hit, he worked on a program to treat dental problems in remote villages. After the devastating quake and waves hit on Dec. 26, he sprang into action and came to the south.

Sandy has been working to take dental X rays of victims at a makeshift morgue along a highway. His job is miserable, yet so essential to the recovery process for so many.

All around Khao Lak things have been changing. Bulldozers and massive backhoes have cleared land and moved debris. Some freshly cleared fields I saw looked as if they would soon be planted with crops. It was hard for me to tell that homes and business once stood there.

In one area a swamp was being drained. Divers had attached plastic bottles to the top of submerged cars, so when they came to the surface there would be a warning. No one knows exactly how many cars are in the swamp, but they do know more victims are inside.

On a positive note, some businesses in the area are opening again. With all the volunteers and military help, there is a need for food and refreshment. A couple of areas on higher ground did survive the wall of water. It amazed me to drive on the road heading north and see rubble replaced by some normalcy, only to return again to massive destruction.

I wonder when the day will come when I can drive on this road and have it uninterrupted by signs of death.