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Rego Pk. dad recounts search for daughter after tidal wave

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On the one hand, he wanted the agonizing seven-day search for his 25-year-old daughter, Hannah, who was vacationing on Phi Phi Island when the tsunami hit, to be over.A phone call from his daughter's Morgan Stanley office in Hong Kong inquiring about her absence from work brought Hannah Shi's parents from their Rego Park home to the medical centers and temples of Thailand, where they searched hundreds of pictures and hospital beds in hopes of finding their child."Even to this moment, I can't believe this is happening to me," Rong Shi, a journalist who is used to being on the other side of the camera, said in Chinese Tuesday evening. Rong Shi and his wife, natives of Shanghai, were able to find their daughter's body through a picture that showed the two piercings in her ears. The dental records confirmed their worst fears. "I'm still in shock. I guess the shock will give us some impact for some time," he said. His wife sat in the kitchen and kept a door closed between her and the journalists, family and friends who stopped by to acknowledge the death of one of New York's first victims of the deadly tsunami that killed more than 150,000 people. After striking Thailand, Indonesia, South India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka on Dec. 26, the death toll has risen on a daily basis, claiming at least 4,800 people in Thailand, half of whom were foreign tourists.Hannah Shi, an investment banker, was vacationing on Phi Phi island the morning of Dec. 26 when she made the fatal decision to sleep late instead of going diving with her friends on the other side of the island. The friends she was travelling with survived the tsunami. "She's always been working crazily," family friend Wei He said, explaining that the vacation was an excuse for Hannah Shi to catch up on much-needed rest.Her family, which includes her parents, grandmother and 15-year-old sister, Annie, were skiing in upstate New York when the tsunami hit. An employee from Morgan Stanley called them to ask if Hannah was okay two days after the deadly waves consumed the coastal islands of Thailand. On Dec. 29, Rong Shi and his wife flew to Bangkok, with the financial and emotional support of Morgan Stanley, and began searching through several hospitals and hundreds of pictures before noticing Hannah Shi's two ear piercings and one earring on a body. The dental records test was then run. Hannah Shi began working for Morgan Stanley after graduating from New York University's Stern Business School in 2001. She worked for Morgan Stanley in New York until being relocated to Hong Kong a year ago. An honors student at Forest Hills High School, she was remembered as a "good student" and "wonderful lady" by Principal Stephen Frey. After going to NYU on a full scholarship and becoming an investment banker, Hannah Shi made sure to provide for her family, her father said. "We couldn't give her what we should give her as an elementary school student," Rong Shi said, looking around his modest Rego Park home. "When she grew up, she wanted to do everything to make us happy."Hannah Shi used to take the family to Broadway shows when she would come home. The last time they saw her was Dec. 12, when she took the entire family to Rockefeller Center while in New York for two days on business. "Before we left home she said: 'Dad, don't forget your camera, we need a picture of the whole family,'" he said. "At the time I thought we had a lot of pictures of the whole family."That smiling photograph now sits alongside several others in a makeshift memorial to Hannah on the family's dining room table."That was the last picture of the whole family," he said. A memorial service for Hannah Shi will be held Friday at 10 a.m. at St. Bartholomew's Church, 109 E. 50th St., in Manhattan. Those interested in contributing to the family can send donations to the Rutgers Community Christian Church for Hannah Shi's Relief Fund at 71 Cedar Grove Ln., Somerset, NJ, 08873.Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call (718) 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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