As we turned into Patong Hospital’s car park we found ourselves stuck behind four trucks laden with empty coffins – about 40 per truck.
There was just one parking space left and we took it. As we opened the doors of the air-conditioned car, we were surrounded by the whining of electric saws and the rhythm of nails being hammered.
The walk to the hospital entrance took us past the source of the noise, and the reason why our part of the car park was full. It was given over entirely to making coffins.
Young men grabbed plywood sheets from foot-high stacks on the floor – the hospital has been appealing for donations of plywood – and sawed them into panels for other young men to nail together as fast as they could.
As soon as a coffin was finished, it was taken to the mortuary, where a body, wrapped in plastic sheeting was placed inside.
The photographs have been placed on a computer in the hospital reception, and anxious people, mainly Thais, were queuing to click through them, hoping yet hoping not to find a face they recognised.
The coffins were carried to the hospital’s underground car park, probably the coolest place on the premises.
Half-an-hour earlier, I had stood on a hillside and looked across the area most affected by the tsunami, where some of Patong’s thriving bars, restaurants, trinket shops and tailors had previously been. It resembled a building site rather than a killing field.
The weather here is such that buildings don’t need to be particularly substantial, and they don’t leave much mess when they’re wrecked, so it’s sometimes hard to comprehend the magnitude of what has been visited on this so-called ‘island paradise’.
Until you find yourself watching men make coffin after coffin and still not make enough.