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PATONG: Just five days after the tsunami hit Patong Beach, astonishing progress has been made with the clean-up of the resort town.

Tourists are back in the water or strolling along the sand, though the view is very different from the clutter that existed before the wave hit. With no beach chairs or umbrellas, one can now look along the entire three-kilometer stretch of sand.

A few boats dot the bright blue sea, now flat calm after the massive upheaval on December 26, and gone are the troublesome jet-skis and para-sailing speedboats.

It’s quieter, too, with no vendors selling soft drinks, no motorbikes, no rental cars and no tuk-tuks to disturb the town’s new-found peace. It’s almost as though the beach has been sent back in time to 20 years ago.

On the other side of the beach road, however, the damage from the tsunami is all too evident, with huge piles of rubble dotting the landscape.

Workers from Patong Municipality are working alongside employees of local businesses cleaning up the area around their workplaces.

Sadly, many of the trees that were such a feature of the beachfront, offering welcome shade from the sun, seem fated to die. Yellowing leaves carpet the brown grass as too much salt in the ground takes its toll.

Panu Maswongsa, Marketing Director of Patong Beach Resort and Vice-President of Marketing of the Phuket Tourist Association, told the Gazette that the occupancy rate of the resort before the tsunami was about 70%, but after the wave hit, all the guests were moved to others hotels. The resort will be closed for repairs and renovation.

“The water was about waist-deep and damaged guest rooms, the generator, the swimming pool and the air conditioning, so we will be closed somewhere between a month and three months.

“I believe the damage to Patong overall is about 30% – mostly the businesses next to the beach,” K. Panu added.

Some anger is being felt in Patong about the depiction of the town by the media. A member of a Marine Security unit sent by the US Embassy in Bangkok to help with the clean-up, echoed those feelings when he said he was not happy with media, especially TV, for showing only pictures of the damage.

“Many people have been helping to clean up Patong since the first day and many employees are back at work, but the television stations still show pictures of the damage. In fact, everything looks much better now. In Patong only the [beach] road and some hotels were damaged, but the beach looks so beautiful now.

“Why don’t they update their pictures?” he asked.

In Kamala, the area of Phuket probably worst hit by the wave, the beach is also mostly clean, but infrastructural damage is much more apparent, with the large bites taken out of the beach road by the tsunami.

The area behind is a scene of devastation. The wooden school vanished when the wave smashed its way across the main road and into the village beyond. The nearby wat was also severely damaged.

Soldiers, Kamala council workers and local people are all working hard to clear up the area.