Thousands in Indonesia pray on 15th anniversary of devastating tsunami | CBC News

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Thousands in Indonesia pray on 15th anniversary of devastating tsunami | CBC News

Thousands of people knelt in prayer in Indonesia’s Aceh province at ceremonies Thursday marking the 15th anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami, one of modern history’s worst natural disasters.

The massive Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami was triggered by a 9.1-magnitude earthquake off Sumatra island. The giant wall of water killed about 230,000 people in a dozen countries as far away as East Africa. Indonesia’s Aceh province, which was closest to the earthquake, was hit first and hardest.

More than 170,000 people died in Indonesia alone, about three-quarters of the overall death toll.

“No words can describe our feelings when we tearfully saw thousands of corpses lying on this ground 15 years ago,” acting Aceh Gov. Nova Iriansyah said at a ceremony in Sigli, a town in Pidie district, “And now, we can see how people in Aceh were able to overcome suffering and rise again, thanks to assistance from all Indonesians and from people all over the world.”

In Indonesia, 65-year-old tsunami survivor Nurhayati, right, prays to mark the anniversary of the devastating 2004 tsunami. (Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP via Getty Images)

Weeping survivors and others attended religious services and memorial ceremonies. Relatives of the dead and religious and community leaders presented flowers at mass graves of tsunami victims in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

Shops and offices were closed, boats were not allowed to sail and flags were being flown at half staff throughout Aceh on Thursday and Friday.

Thursday’s commemoration came four days after the anniversary of last year’s Sunda Strait tsunami, which followed the eruption and partial collapse of the Anak Krakatau volcano. That tsunami struck coastal regions of Banten on Indonesia’s main island of Java and parts of southern Sumatra island, leaving more than 400 people dead and 14,000 injured.

Disaster-prone Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands that is home to 260 million people, lies along the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

Commemorations across Asia

In Thailand, where more than 5,300 people were killed, including tourists visiting resort islands in the Andaman Sea, officials held a memorial ceremony and called for more awareness and preparedness for disasters.

“The government wants to lift safety standards… and build awareness across all sectors in preparing and protecting people against disasters,” Deputy Interior Minister, Nipon Bunyamanee, said at an opening ceremony. He said Dec. 26 had been designated national accident prevention day.

Officials later laid wreaths at a memorial center in Phang Nga province to pay tribute to King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s nephew, Bhumi Jensen, who was last seen jet-skiing off the coast when the tsunami hit.

An interfaith service for Muslim, Christian and Buddhist victims was also scheduled.

“It still haunts me. I can remember it all the time,” said Suwannee Maliwan, 28, who lost both parents and five other relatives in Phang Nga.

“Sometimes I dream that a wave is coming. I’m still scared,” she said. “Sometimes I want to move somewhere else, but it’s not possible because I was born here, my mom and dad passed away here.”

Survivors from Ban Nam Khem, the worst hit Thai village, will hold a candlelight vigil in the evening. At least 1,400 people were killed when waves struck the fishing village.

In India, where more than 10,000 people died in the tsunami, survivors also were to hold memorial ceremonies. More than 35,000 people died in Sri Lanka.

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