Australian disaster victim identification (DVI) experts are being helped by Church of Scientology volunteers to preserve bodies of tsunami victims in Thailand.
The police DVI team is working with its New Zealand and Dutch counterparts to preserve bodies in the village of Wat Yang Yao, near the popular resort town of Chao Lak. The bodies are being preserved so that they can be identified later.
The experts have been joined by volunteer relief workers from the Church of Scientology, including two Australians, who arrived in the Chao Lak area the day after the disaster.
The volunteers stayed on to assist the police set up and run the system of preserving bodies at a temporary mortuary in a local Buddhist temple.
“It’s been an incredible relationship,” the leader of the Scientology team, American Patrick Bundock, said.
“When we first arrived at the temple basically there was just one refrigeration container.
“One of our volunteers built a city of containers.
“Meeting the specifications of the Australian police he set up 20 refrigeration tractor containers.”
Mr Bundock said the volunteers had formed close bonds with the Australian police.
“You really get very close to people very fast and you place a lot of trust in them because no-one can do everything that needs to be done on their own,” he said.
“It’s a sort of bonding experience.”
Mr Bundock and his team have provided counselling to relief workers at the scene, as well as to victims of the disaster.
“A lot of the counselling and relief staff are in just as much distress as the victims,” he said.
Mr Bundock and his team arrived at Chao Lak just 20 hours after the tsunami hit.
“At the time most of the relief effort was going to Phuket,” he said.
“This area was much harder hit than Phuket.”
The team immediately set up a system to allow families to identify bodies with a minimum amount of distress.
Mr Bundock said the volunteers had used counselling techniques to assist victims who were in such a state of shock they had been unable to look for loved ones.
The Australian DVI team has access to counselling from Australian police counsellors.