Elephants join search for tsunami victims

 

  Elephants joined the search for bodies in Thailand's tsunami-devastated coastal region today, clearing debris-strewn forests for rescue teams to retrieve rotting corpses.

Six jumbos, who featured in Oliver Stone's recent blockbuster Alexander, were trucked in from an elephant camp in the ancient capital Ayuthaya, 500 miles north of shattered Phuket island, to help speed up the search operation.

An elephant carries the body of a tsunami victim after discovering it in Takuapa district, 81 miles north of Phuket.
An elephant carries the body of a tsunami victim after discovering it in Takuapa district, 81 miles north of Phuket.

"We use the elephants because a truck can't pass through the thick forest," said trainer Laitonglian Meepan. "The elephant is like a four-wheel drive. They walk in the forest all their life."

The elephants were rescued and rehabilitated by the Ayuthaya Elephant Palace and Royal Kraal after authorities had threatened to put them down for attacking humans. With chains and ropes tied around their enormous frames, they pulled concrete slabs and giant tree trucks away to reveal the body of an unidentified man.

They also dragged a submerged 10-seater van from a tiny lake littered with fridges, television sets and children's toys. Hundreds of bodies are still believed trapped under piles of concrete and rubble a week after the tidal waves wiped out entire beachfronts around the popular holiday destination of Phuket.

Thai rescue workers have struggled to unearth the dead, many of them foreign tourists, after initially digging into mud with their bare hands and shovels. Some areas were too remote to transport heavy earth-moving equipment, making the task almost impossible for overwhelmed rescue teams.

With nearly 4,000 people still unaccounted for, the elephants will continue their recovery work into next week, the trainer said.