Beachside memorials and religious services have been held across Asia to mark the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that left more than a quarter of a million people dead in one of modern history’s worst natural disasters.
The devastating December 26th, 2004 tsunami struck a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean rim, eradicated entire coastal communities, decimated families and crashed over tourist-filled beaches, with survivors wading through a horror show of corpse-filled waters.
Survivors, politicians, diplomats and families of victims gathered in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere. Moments of silence were planned in several spots to mark the exact time the tsunami struck.
The disaster was triggered by a 9.1-magnitude earthquake, the region’s most powerful in 40 years, that tore open the seabed bed off of Indonesia’s Sumatran coast, displacing billions of tons of water and sending waves roaring across the Indian Ocean at jetliner speeds as far away as east Africa.
Indonesia’s Aceh province was hit first and hardest. The sea rose as high as 33 feet and surged inland for miles with seemingly unstoppable force, carrying along trees, houses, train cars — and thousands of people — in a churning rush.
Indonesia’s vice president Jusuf Kalla attended a ceremony in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, in which sashes were distributed to the ambassadors of countries that assisted in the massive recovery effort 10 years ago.
More than 160,000 people died in Indonesia, more than half of the total 230,000 people killed across the region.
There were four Irish victims: Lucy Colye, Éilís Finnegan, Connor Keightley, and Michael Murphy.
Memorial services are held in Indonesia and other nations for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami on the disaster’s 10th anniversary.
In Thailand, more than 5,000 people were killed, about half of whom were tourists celebrating the day after Christmas on the country’s renowned white-sand beaches.
In Sri Lanka, the water swept a passenger train from its tracks, killing nearly 2,000 people in a single blow. A symbolic recreation of the train journey was planned.
“I cannot forget the smell of the air, the water at that time, even after 10 years,” said Teuku Ahmad Salman (51) who joined thousands in a prayer service in Banda Aceh.
“I cannot forget how I lost hold of my wife, my kids, my house,” he said sobbing, recounting that he refused to believe for years that they had died, but finally gave up looking for them.
More than 100 survivors of the tsunami along with bereaved relatives from Germany, Austria and Switzerland held a memorial service on a beach in Khao Lak, Thailand. They walked into the waves and lay flowers in the warm Andaman Sea, while diplomats placed wreaths on the sand.
“I didn’t expect it would touch me so much after 10 years again because I’ve come back every now and then in recent years,” said German tsunami survivor Claudia Geist, who was so badly injured during the tsunami she almost lost a leg.
“But this has been a completely different experience now connecting with all the other people.”