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World marks tsunami anniversary

26 December 2005 No Comment

Countries around the Indian Ocean have begun commemorations marking one year since the tsunami which killed some 200,000 people.

In Indonesia, which was hardest hit, the province of Aceh observed a minute’s silence at 0816 (0116 GMT) – the moment the first waves struck.

Sri Lanka’s president led mourning at the site where a train was engulfed.

Hundreds of Swedes are among other Western mourners attending ceremonies in Thailand’s beach resorts.

An earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, believed to be the second-biggest on record, sent giant waves thousands of kilometres across the ocean.

Countries as far apart as Malaysia and Somalia were affected. Aceh was closest to the epicentre of the earthquake and a third of the total number of people who died across the region died there. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called the minute’s silence at a ceremony on a jetty outside the city of Banda Aceh, where around 1,000 invited guests sat in front of a specially erected stage.

A haunting recitation from the Koran opened the commemorations, the BBC’s Rachel Harvey reports – then a siren rang out across the flattened landscape, marking the moment when the first wave struck. The president paid tribute to those who had tried to rebuild their lives over the past year, saying they were a reminder that “life is worth struggling for”.

In Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapakse led a tribute in the southern village of Peraliya, where a train was swept off the tracks by the waves with the loss of at least 1,000 lives. After a two-minute silence at 0930 (0330 GMT) – the time the tsunami struck – the president unveiled a monument to the country’s 31,000 dead.

Local Buddhist monks were preparing for a day of chanting while butchers hung up their knives in a sign of respect for all life, an Associated Press correspondent reports. Thousands of people have been taking part in commemorations in Thailand on a stretch of coast known as Khao Lak.

The official death toll there stands at 5,395 – two-fifths of them foreign tourists including 126 Britons and 543 Swedes, making the Scandinavian country the worst affected state outside the region. “I think you need to come back,” Swedish survivor Pigge Werkelin, who lost his two young sons and his wife in the disaster, told Reuters news agency.

“You need to go to the beach, you have to see children on the beach, you have to see everything… I must do it and then afterward I can put it behind me.” One ceremony in Khao Lak was taking place in the shadow of a Thai marine police boat which was plucked out of the sea by the tsunami and dumped hundreds of metres inland.

Mourners, local and foreign, were laying white flowers on an altar towering above the crowd – a symbol, they say, that the Thai people stand tall in the face of this disaster and are now ready to move on.

Around 1.5m people were left homeless in the region after the wall of water stripped away trees, houses and whole communities, and reconstruction could take between five years and a decade. But just as the scale of the devastation was shocking, the BBC’s Catherine Davis notes, so the international response was unprecedented. The United Nations says it was the most generous and most immediately funded emergency relief effort.

About $12 billion is estimated to have been raised and the massive aid effort has also acted as a test case for how the international community responds to disasters.

Courtesy: BBC News

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