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Thousands in Asia Commemorate Boxing Day Tsunami 10th Anniversary With Prayers, Religious Services

( [email protected] ) Dec 26, 2014 05:46 PM EST
Survivors of the Boxing Day tsunami have gathered for commemoration ceremonies to remember the tragedy 10 years ago that left an estimated 230,000 people dead.
Acehneses women attend a memorial service in Banda Aceh. Photo: AFP

Across Asia, moments of silence, prayers, tears and religious services marked the 10th anniversary of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami that killed at least 220,000 people in 14 countries.

On Dec. 26 a decade ago, a 9.15-magnitude quake opened a faultline deep beneath the ocean, triggering a wave as high as 17.4 metres (57 feet) which tore open the seabed 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.

According to the AP, the result was "carnage on an almost unimaginable scale." Entire villages were demolished by the tsunami generated by the earthquake, as walls of water, travelling as fast as commercial jets, slammed into coastal areas. Rescue workers reportedly pulled an estimated 3,000 bodies from the rubble of Banda Aceh each day.

On Friday, survivors, government officials, diplomats and families of victims gathered in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere to commemorate the tragic event.  Moments of silence were held to mark the exact time the tsunami struck.

"Today we think of all those for whom Boxing Day is no longer a celebration but the day they lost a loved one in the Indian Ocean tsunami," said David Cameron, the Prime Minister.

In Aceh, the Indonesian province where nearly 170,000 people died, mourners packed into mosques and churches for prayers, Reuters reports.  Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla led a prayer ceremony in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh.

"Here in this field 10 years ago ... we tearfully saw thousands of corpses lying," Kalla said as he and other officials placed flowers at a mass grave where thousands of unknown tsunami victims were buried.

"No words can describe our human feelings at that time - confused, shocked, sad, scared - in seeing the suffering of the people in Aceh. But we could not remain in sadness. Aceh had to rise again, and all Indonesians in this archipelago helped, and people all over the world offered their assistance."

World Vision chief executive Rev.Tim Costello was among those attending the memorial held in Banda Aceh. ABC News reports that in 2004, he witnessed the destruction first hand in Sri Lanka and Aceh.

Reverend Costello said helping people find their dead was one of the most valuable services the aid agency performed, but acknowledged that for tens of thousands of others, there could be no real closure.

"There were mass graves, graves of 14,000 people in a field just near where the tsunami came through," Reverend Costello said.

"And you never get over that."

In Thailand, where nearly 5,400 people died, including around 2,000 foreigners, Mark Kent, the British ambassador, was among those at an official memorial service in Phang Nga province.

The Telegraph reports that hundreds gathered in the area to say prayers and leave flowers around Police Boat 813 - a vessel that became a symbol of the catastrophe after being swept more than one mile inland by the tsunami.

"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," Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said during a memorial service held near the boat.

A decade later, little sign of the physical devastation remains in many of the areas hit by the tsunami. However, locals say the mental scars still remain.

"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 tsunami survivor Claudia Geist of Germany, who was so badly injured during the disaster she almost lost her leg. "But this has been a completely different experience now connecting with all the other people."

Zaini Abdullah, Aceh's governor, said that the anniversary serves as an opportunity to both remember the dead and protect the living.

"As we know, [the tsunami is one of the] biggest to have ever happened on our Earth," the government said at a memorial in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.

"This experience reminds us that Indonesia a place prone to natural disasters. We have to prepare when disaster comes, so we can mitigate it fast and right."