Couple's life-saving decision

By SAMANTHA TURNBULL and AAP

POSTPONING a romantic getaway to a beachfront bungalow in Phuket was a life-saving decision for Garry and Dang Chapman.

The North Lismore man and his Thai wife were due to arrive in Thailand's tourist isle days before the coast was hit by the devastating tsunamis that are estimated to have killed more than 68,000 people across Asia.

The Chapman's planned getaway, owned by Dang's Queensland-based parents, was completely washed away.

A last-minute decision to visit Dang's grandmother in northern Thailand, however, meant the couple escaped the same fate as thousands of others.

Garry's mother, Gloria Chapman, of North Lismore, said her son and Dang were blissfully unaware of the disaster when it first happened.

"I was ringing the hotline and couldn't get through to anyone, so I was very worried," she said.

"But then I got through to Dang's mobile and they weren't in Phuket. They hadn't even heard about the earthquake."

Gloria said they were more worried about trying to get Dang Australian citizenship.

"They've been married since February and they're so in love ? they met in Evans Head," Gloria said.

"But they've had terrible trouble with the Australian embassy and the paperwork. It's just awful because they're married and they want to have children."

The couple renewed their vows in a Thai Buddhist temple yesterday.

- Thousands of corpses rotted in tropical sun yesterday as Asia's tsunami death toll climbed to horrifying heights.

Reuters put the overall toll at more than 68,000 dead. Other news agencies said the figure at around 59,000.

The search for victims in a dozen countries found body after body amid fears of epidemics.

The stench of death was inescapable as the rest of the world redoubled pledges of aid.

Mass burials were done with little or no ceremony as disease loomed as the potential new mass killer.

The United Nations mobilised what it called the biggest relief operation in its history.

Scientists say the force of Sunday's magnitude-9 quake that unleashed the tsunami across the Indian Ocean may have shifted the Earth's axis and moved islands.

Amid the immense devastation, misery, grief and chaos, reports of confirmed deaths climbed and varied.

An exact fix on how many have died has been impossible to determine because of the immensity of the catastrophe.

Media, government and aid sources all warned the numbers would rise because thousands of people remained missing, many swept out to sea. Others were lost in so far inaccessible areas.

Unconfirmed estimates of the dead ranged up beyond 76,000.

Most victims were poor villagers. But thousands of foreign tourists were also dead or missing.

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was forced to step over bloated bodies as he surveyed biblical-like destruction in the province of Aceh ? closest to the epicentre of the quake.

Officials put the toll for that area alone at more than 32,000 and rising. Massive tremors demolished buildings and gigantic waves washed over thousands of hectares.

The massive tsunami may have been the deadliest in more than a century. Many of those who escaped death now face a fight for survival against hunger and disease.



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