Three years after Indian Ocean nations were lashed by massive tsunamis, somber ceremonies were held Wednesday to recall those lost in one of the worst natural catastrophes in modern times.
|A Thai mother holds a red rose along with her child as they attend a memorial ceremony for the victims of the 2004 tsunami in Khao Lak in the southern Thai province of Phang Nga, 26 December 2007 (Photo: AFP)|
In Indonesia, mass prayers were held outdoors and at mosques across Aceh, the staunchly Muslim province at the northern tip of Sumatra island, where some 168,000 lives were claimed by the earthquake-triggered walls of water.
The toll here was more than half the 220,000 killed in a dozen nations, including Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, with thousands of unidentified victims buried in mass graves hastily dug in the disaster's aftermath.
Wednesday's main ceremony was held outdoors at a village on the outskirts of Calang, one of the areas of Aceh obliterated in the disaster.
"I came here to pray together with other residents. I pray for my wife and my child who died in the tsunami, hoping they are now resting in peace," said Alimudin, a 61-year-old retired local government official.
Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf, a former rebel fighter, told about 1,000 residents, school children and officials that he hoped "we can learn from the tragedy to improve our piety towards God."
"Let us leave behind all our tears and work together to rebuild Aceh, hoping that one day we can repay our 'debt' to the international community," he said.
The international community pledged more than seven billion dollars to help reconstruction in Aceh, which is well on track towards completion.
Yusuf, who was detained in a jail that was destroyed by the tsunami, was elected in December last year following a historic peace pact spurred on by the disaster -- one of its few silver linings -- that saw a 29-year separatist conflict end.
Also in Indonesia, a dramatic drill simulating a tsunami strike was held in Java's coastal province of Banten involving around 9,000 residents, local television reported.
The simulation, designed to test a tsunami warning system gradually being rolled out, saw hundreds of students, along with residents clutching children, rush to higher ground assailed by wailing sirens.
"This country is vulnerable to tsunami threats. Let us pray to God for this country to be kept safe from tsunamis," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said after observing the exercise.
Sri Lanka, which suffered 31,000 deaths, marked the anniversary by opening a showpiece bridge in the southern coastal town of Matara, gifted by South Korea.
President Mahinda Rajapakse observed two minutes of silence at 9:25 am, the time when the first giant waves lashed the coastline in a disaster that also displaced a million people on the island.
Sri Lanka's post-tsunami reconstruction work has been dogged by graft and renewed fighting that has blocked relief to survivors, with less than a fifth of the money pledged properly accounted for, according to watchdogs.
In India, where more than 16,000 people died, hundreds of survivors, mostly poor fishermen and their families, held a procession in Nagapattinam district in southern Tamil Nadu state, where more than 6,000 people died.
Youngsters from tsunami-affected families offered flowers to the victims, while earlier in the day parents who had lost children three years ago thronged local beaches and prayed for the souls of their loved ones.
Tens of thousands of Indians lost huts in the disaster and rights groups say more than 20,000 tsunami-affected families are still waiting for new homes.
Orange-robed Buddhist monks gathered by Thailand's Andaman Sea for a blessing ceremony in memory of the 5,400 people killed in the kingdom, half of whom were foreign holiday-makers.
About 200 people from Thailand and abroad, many of whom lost loved ones in the tragedy, sat silently and grasped red roses as the monks chanted blessings. Attendees then walked out onto Phuket's Patong beach and cast the flowers, representing the dead, into the sea.
Memorial services were planned throughout the day in the the six southern Thai provinces hit by the tsunami.