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Tsunami Report: Thai Shops Selling Gruesome Photos

Tsunami Report: Thai Shops Selling Gruesome Photographs

By Richard S. Ehrlich

PHUKET, Thailand -- Shops are selling high-quality, color photographs of bloated, blackened corpses of foreign tourists and Thais who perished in the tsunami, and video compact disks showing waves battering and flooding Thailand's tiny islands.

"I sold 1,000 of these photographs already," boasts a man behind the counter at Maxi Color, a modern, well-lit photo supply shop, identifiable from the outside by big, bright, yellow-and-red Kodak advertisements.

"I have been selling them since December 26. Everybody buys them, foreigners and Thais," the Maxi Color salesman says.

"They want a souvenir. A tsunami like this never happened before."

An inch-thick stack of glossy, five-by-seven-inch color photographs are positioned on top of a glass display case, next to the cash register, so every customer can consider purchasing the gory, dramatic pictures.

The photos -- printed on Kodak paper -- sell for 20 baht each, equivalent to 50 U.S. cents, and include pictures of dead victims, as well as scenic shots of wreckage and flooding.

Among the most horrific images is a photograph showing a cluster of several corpses -- swollen by tropical heat and floating in the Andaman Sea -- each with a rope tied to a leg, being pulled by a Thai recovery team in a nearby boat.

One picture, shot at night while using a flash, illuminates floating bodies on a blacked-out sea, so they appear as scary, larger-than-life, human-shaped balloons drifting diagonally across the photo.

A leg of each corpse is tied to the leg of another corpse, creating a macabre web, apparently being pulled by unseen rescuers.

One terrible picture shows several men and women in swim suits -- most likely foreign tourists because of their large physique -- deposited on wet sand in strong sunlight, with flesh partially blackened by decay.

Their puffed-up arms and legs are spread out and bent, as if they are hurtling on an invisible roller coaster. They also have a rope dangling from each leg after being pulled ashore.

Scenes of destruction include a photo of splintered rubble spread over several acres, amid palm trees and a few surviving buildings, with a debris-filled swimming pool in the foreground. Survivors appear as tiny, wandering figures.

Some photos show roof-high seawater roaring down streets.

The Maxi Color shop, on upmarket Montree Road across from the Metropole Hotel where foreign forensic workers, correspondents and others are staying, is not the only place where the pictures are sold.

"I get them from my friends who work in other photo stores. They print them from news photos, or tourists' photos, or from shops all over," the salesman says.

"Every shop has different photos. Have you seen this one?" he asks, flipping through the stack to find a specific picture he likes.

Unable to locate it, he grins and says, "Come back tomorrow. I print more.

"I also have video CDs, showing the waves hitting a small island near Phi Phi. The video is 50 minutes long."

A Canadian customer from Vancouver is intrigued.

"I recognized a Buddhist temple that was flooded up to its roof," the Canadian says.

On the other side of Phuket island, at Patong Beach, compact disks are for sale on Bangla Road, a somewhat sleazy, main street of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops heavily damaged by the tsunami.

"350 Photos on 1 CD, 199 baht [five U.S. dollars]," a sign reads in front of T. A. Internet shop.

"Photos CD Tsunami in Patong," another sign says in broken English. "For your memorial."

While customers examine the CDs, the shops' loudspeakers happen blare a song by Brian Adams who plaintively croons:

"...You can't tell me it's not worth dying for..."


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

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