Sat, Dec 10, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Tragedy brings surprise riches to villagers

AP , THAM THA MAUK, THAILAND

Sangad Chankhaew, a Thai villager shows pieces of gold he dug from the banks of a local stream before selling them in Prachuab Khiri Khan province, Thailand on Thursday. Hundreds of fortune seekers armed with shovels and pans are flocking to the stream in the village of Tham Tsha Mauk in search of gold, which has surfaced from the stream banks after severe floods.

PHOTO: AP

Severe floods that washed away homes, bridges and lives have compensated hapless villagers in southern Thailand with a treasure -- gold.

Hundreds of fortune-seekers armed with shovels and pans are flocking to the stream of Tham Tha Mauk village in search of the precious metal, which surfaced from the stream banks after the deluge.

"The spirit of Tha Mauk [Grandfather Mauk] has given us worshippers a treasure to compensate for what we lost in the flooding," said 60-year-old Sangad Chankhaew as he flashed a broad smile after a buyer gave him 1,200 baht (US$30) in cash for a gold nugget the size of a rice grain.

He was among about 50 gold diggers on the banks of the stream, scooping sand and mud into wooden pans and expectantly swishing them around in the water.

serious floods

Last month's flooding -- the worst the area has seen in 40 years -- caused landslides and the collapse of the stream's banks, exposing an area for gold digging.

"The gold is more plentiful than in the past years," said Sanguan, Sangad's older brother.

He said his family has made about 80,000 baht since they began panning after the water receded three weeks ago.

Sanguan's house was lightly damaged by the floods, and a part of his pineapple plantation was washed away.

The flooding has swept away houses, roads and bridges in Prachuab Khiri Khan province's Bangsaphan district, 290km south of Bangkok, where the stream is located. Six people were killed in flash floods in Bangsaphan last month.

Gold diggers have offered flowers, incense and sweets to Tha Mauk's small spirit house, which was erected near the stream.

Local folklore says that the spirit of Tha Mauk owns the gold-rich forest of the area and that he occasionally gives to worshippers from his stores.

Some gold buyers see their purchases here as his sacred gifts.

long-term wealth

"This gold is a present from the holy spirit, so I bought it to keep for prosperity in my life," said Pradit Sawangjit, 42, a pineapple plantation owner who bought the nugget from Sangad.

Many gold diggers had left jobs at pineapple and coconut planttions to look for gold.

Ruangsri Polkrut, 52, traveled more than 100km from Chumpon Province to sit on a rock by the stream for more than six hours a day to search.

"I've earned about 5,000 baht from three days panning for gold. It's not big money but enough for the school fee of my daughter for next term," Ruangsri said.

Tham Tha Mauk used to be a gold mining village, but gold digging ended some 30 years ago when vast swathes of forest were converted into private pineapple plantations.

"This area used to be a national forest, but the rich people turned this land into their private pineapple plantations," Sanguan said. "But after the water washed way part of the plantation and the banks of the stream, we had every right to look for gold again."

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