Tsunami anniversary

MEERSCHAUM VALE dance teacher Sue Whiteman will join thousands of mourners at a memorial service in Thailand today to mark the fifth anniversary of the tsunami that killed many of her friends.

Ms Whiteman divides her time between Thailand and the Northern Rivers and had been in charge of a 30-person Thai dance troupe that was due to perform at a Phuket resort on New Year’s Eve in 2004.

Her performers were rehearsing in Phuket when the Boxing Day tsunami struck, and were among more than 220,000 people in 12 countries who were killed.

Ms Whiteman was on a plane from Bangkok to Phuket when the disaster occ-urred.

“It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, even though so much has happened since then,” she said. “The whole concept of how a wave moves from somewhere it should be, the sea, to somewhere it shouldn’t be, the land, it’s still a puzzle for me.

“I’m reminded of it all the time. Coconut trees are still on a slant. Everything is on a slant from where the wave hit, so the reminder is always there.”

When Ms Whiteman arrived back in Phuket after the disaster she asked authorities where she could be of most assistance because she speaks Thai.

She was sent by army helicopter to the region of Nam Khem, and it is that trip that will be at the forefront of her memory today.

“I saw the whole coastline, the beaches covered in swollen dead bodies,” she said.

“That will be something I will be thinking about. It will be a touching day.”

Over the past five years, Ms Whiteman has dedicated herself to helping rebuild devastated communities by setting up the Heart to Heart Foundation.

The foundation has built more than 80 homes in the Nam Khem region for people displaced by the tsunami.

Ms Whiteman flew to Thailand from Australia yesterday and said she had not missed a memorial since the tragedy.

“I think it’s important for me to be there, it’s a very touching day,” she said.

“It was the most life-changing experience. I call it the wave of change.

“It really taught me tovalue every moment. Everything can be washed away in seconds.”

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