4:13AM GMT 26 Dec 2014
One by one countries around the Indian Ocean stopped on Friday morning to mark
the 10th anniversary of the tsunami that killed 220,000 people when giant
waves battered coastal areas from Indonesia to Somalia.
Among the victims were thousands of foreign tourists enjoying Christmas in the
region, carrying the tragedy of an unprecedented natural disaster into homes
around the world.
On December 26, 2004 a 9.3-magnitude earthquake off Indonesia’s western tip
generated a series of massive waves that pummelled the coastline of 14
countries including Thailand and Sri Lanka.
A chorus of voices singing the Indonesian national anthem marked the start of
the ceremony at a 20-acre park in Indonesia’s Banda Aceh – the main city of
the province closest to the epicentre of the massive quake and which bore
the brunt of the destructive waves.
“We are gathered here today to remember the historic disaster that took
place on December 26. As we know, it was one of the biggest to have ever
happened on our Earth,” said Zaini Abdullah, Aceh governor, before a
crowd of several thousand.
“The disaster was also an awakening – to be aware of our environment and
to continue to be vigilant and understand how to deal with disasters.
“Learning from our experience, we call for strengthening of solidarity in
handling disasters to lighten the load of disaster victims across the world.
Mosques also held prayers across the province early on Friday while people
visited the mass graves – the resting place of many of Indonesia’s 170,000
In southern Thailand, where half of the 5,300 dead were foreign tourists, a
smattering of holidaymakers gathered at a memorial park in the small fishing
village of Ban Nam Khem, in a reminder of the global scale of the disaster.
Agnes Moberg, 18, from Sweden, which lost more than 500 of its nationals,
said: “Everyone knew someone affected by the tsunami, I knew people
too. We want to show our respect
Nearby, Somjai Somboon, 40, said she was yet to get over the loss of her two
sons, who were ripped from their house when the waves cut into Thailand.
“I remember them every day,” she told AFP, with tears in her eyes.
The scale of the tragedy emerged in the hours and days after the waves struck.
Disaster-stricken nations struggled to mobilise a relief effort, leaving
bloated bodies to pile up under the tropical sun or in makeshift morgues.
Almost $7 billion in aid went into rebuilding more than 140,000 houses across
Aceh, thousands of kilometres of roads, and new schools and hospitals.
Tens of thousands of children were among the dead.
Lanka, where 31,000 people perished, preparations were under way to
hold a memorial at a railway site where waves crashed into a passenger
train, killing 1,500 people.
Ahead of the ceremony a train guard who survived told AFP a lack of knowledge
of tsunamis – in a region which had not experienced one in living memory –
led to more deaths than necessary.
Wanigaratne Karunatilleke, 58, said: “We had about 15 minutes to move the
passengers to safety. I could have done it. We had the time, but not the
To plug that gap a pan-ocean tsunami warning system was established in 2011,
made up of sea gauges and buoys, while individual countries have invested
heavily in disaster preparedness.
But experts have cautioned against the perils of “disaster amnesia”
creeping into communities vulnerable to natural disasters.
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