Beachside memorials and religious services were held across Asia yesterday to mark the tenth anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that left more than 230,000 people dead in one of modern history’s worst natural disasters.
The devastating tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004 struck a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean rim. It eradicated coastal communities, decimated families and crashed over tourist-filled beaches.
Survivors, government officials, diplomats and the families of victims gathered in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere. Moments of silence were held in several spots to mark the exact time the tsunami struck.
“I cannot forget the smell of the air, the water at that time, even after ten years,” said Teuku Ahmad Salman, a 51-year-old who joined thousands of people in a prayer service in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
“I cannot forget how I lost hold of my wife, my kids, my house,” he said sobbing, recounting how he refused to believe for years they had died but finally gave up looking for them.
The disaster was triggered by a 9.1-magnitude earthquake – the region’s most powerful in 40 years – that tore open the seabed off Indonesia’s Sumatran coast, displacing billions of tonnes of water and sending waves roaring across the Indian Ocean.
Indonesia’s Aceh province, which was closest to the quake’s epicentre, was hit first and hardest. The quake toppled homes and buildings and sent panicked communities rushing into the streets. About 20 minutes later, a wall of water up to 33ft high surged inland for miles, carrying along trees, houses, trains, cars and thousands of people.
In Thailand, more than 5,000 people were killed, about half of them tourists spending the holiday season on the country’s white beaches. People from 38 nations were killed by waves in the south of the country.
More than 100 survivors of the tsunami along with bereaved relatives from Germany, Austria and Switzerland held a memorial service on a beach in Thailand’s Khao Lak.
“I didn’t expect it would touch me so much after ten years again because I’ve come back every now and then in recent years,” survivor Claudia Geist, from Germany, said. “But this has been a completely different experience now connecting with all the other people.”
Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha led a ceremony at a police boat that was out at sea when the tsunami struck and was carried more than a mile inland. It has become a permanent memorial.
“The tsunami claimed many lives. However, it allowed us see the kindness and help that came from around the world that helped us pass through the difficult time,” Mr Prayuth said, before the dead and missing were commemorated by a minute of silence.
In Sri Lanka that day, the water swept a passenger train from its tracks, killing nearly 2,000 people. The locomotive and five of the original carriages, decorated with Buddhist flags, made a memorial journey yesterday over the route, carrying survivors who mourned the dead and missing.