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Tsunami Report: Cyberspace Blogs & Gruesome Photos


Tsunami Report: Cyberspace Blogs And Gruesome Photos

By Richard S. Ehrlich

PHUKET, Thailand -- Internet Websites, blogs, chat groups and databases are flooded with tsunami scams, gruesome morgue photos, official warnings, donation requests, Islamic propaganda against Thailand, and ridiculous jokes, causing confusion and concern among people logging on.

Thailand's talented foreign and Thai geeks have responded by establishing an impressive Website collection of the most reliable links about the tsunami's impact on this country's west coast.

Color photographs of victims' purplish, bloated faces in Thailand's makeshift morgues have also been posted, so loved ones and others can click to see who has been recovered and if they can be identified.

Washington, London, Bangkok and other governments, meanwhile, are warning Internet users not to be suckered by fake donation requests, deceptive personal pleas, and other spam which is echoing through satellites and servers.

Islamic fundamentalists and their opponents are fighting a war of words in cyberspace, including a claim that the tsunami was divine punishment against Thailand, tourists, Jews and America.

And American wise guys are flinging their comedy online, poking fun at Phuket and other suffering, despite the grimness.

Some of Thailand's best and the brightest links appear on OneThailand.com, which offers Bangkok's two English-language newspapers, plus text of BBC and CNN news, and a "Missing Persons Registration", "Red Cross Locate Relatives List", "Death, Injury and Survivors Lists" and other searchable databases.

"Photos of unidentified bodies -- very graphic," OneThailand.com warns, alerting users they will see stomach-churning, color pictures of corpses, swollen or bloodied from the tidal waves and tropical heat.

Thailand's main hospitals are linked, alongside discussion forums and official information about Thai visas, donations, and DNA sampling.

"When you get to the Arrivals counter at Don Muang [International] Airport, Bangkok, please inform the officer that you are arriving to search for relatives. They may or may not take you to the DNA counter in Terminal 2, Baggage Claim Area on the Ground Floor," OneThailand.com advises.

"If they don't take you, please present yourself at the DNA counter so that they may take samples...Try to prepare as many of the following items to help identify your relative or friend: toothbrush, underwear, hair, shaver, etc.," plus medical records, descriptions, and photos of missing people.

"You might not be allowed to visit the morgues to examine bodies because most have decomposed beyond recognition," OneThailand.com explains.

Phuketcity.com offers similar links, plus messages about missing people.

"Desperately seeking news on staff at Phi Phi Islands...at Tapear Bamboo Tattoo, including Roman from France; Toby from UK who worked at Tiger Bar; Eivan from Norway, a tattooist at Long Beach; Paulina from Canada working at one of the dive shops and at Karma Bar; staff from Hippie Bar; plus Bird and any others who performed in the fire show; also staff at Harmony Inn," begs one posting on Phuketcity.com.

Other chat groups and forums offer lively, but often unreliable, online text, and allow the public to post messages, and chatter about the tsunami.

Some people compare the disaster's death toll with the large number of killings in Iraq, or blast international news coverage and politicians for their response, according to MediaChannel.org which tracks various postings.

Ghali Hassan on Uruknet noted: "Unlike the death toll from the latest tsunami in Southeast Asia, which has morphed into an urge to hear more updates and to see more TV footage, the death of innocent Iraqi civilians is systematically ignored."

Donation-seeking organizations are punctuating cyberspace with Websites arranged so compassionate surfers can click and pay.

The Arlington, Virginia-based Council of Better Business Bureau lists charities evaluated by its "Wise Giving Alliance", including non-governmental organizations and faith-based groups.

Thailand's agony is meanwhile being used by Muslim extremists who broadcasted revenge-filled propaganda against Bangkok -- only to have a transcript of the broadcast posted as proof of its mindlessness.

"The oppression and corruption caused by America and the Jews have increased. Have you heard of these beaches that are called tourists' paradise? You have all probably heard of Bangkok," Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris said on Palestinian Authority TV, according to the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

MEMRI posted the transcript to show what Palestinian TV was broadcasting about Thailand's tsunami woes.

"Over there, there are Zionist and American investments. Over there, they bring Muslims and others to prostitution," Mr. Mudeiris said in the television broadcast on Dec. 31.

"Over there, there are beaches, which they dubbed, tourists' paradise, while only a few meters away, the locals live in hell on earth...Do you want the sea to lower its waves in the face of corruption that it sees with its own eyes? No, the zero hour has come," Mr. Mudeiris said, according to MEMRI.

Washington-based Wonkette.com, a political satire site loved and hated by U.S. politicians and their staff, mocks American magazine coverage of the disaster and, in an online joke titled, "Flooding the Tsunami Zone", says:

"We thought we might offer some help to our struggling friends at Time, Newsweek and U.S. News."

Wonkette.com then suggests headlines for the cover of those magazines, including: "The Phuket Diet: Slimming Secrets of the Swells," and "The New Noah: Why Did the Animals Survive?"

*****

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 26 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/glossograph/

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