BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA (TIP): Tearful memorials were being held on Friday across tsunami-hit nations for the 220,000 people who perished when giant waves decimated coastal areas of the Indian Ocean a decade ago. On December 26, 2004 a 9.3-magnitude earthquake off Indonesia’s western tip generated a series of massive waves that pummelled the coastline of 14 countries as far apart as Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Somalia. Among the victims were thousands of foreign tourists enjoying Christmas in the region, carrying the tragedy of an unprecedented natural disaster into homes around the world.
A chorus singing the Indonesian national anthem opened the official memorial at a 20-acre park at Banda Aceh — the main city of the province closest to the epicentre of the massive quake —which bore the brunt of waves towering up to 115 feet.
“Thousands of corpses were sprawled in this field,” Indonesian Vice-president Jusuf Kalla told the crowd of several thousand — many among them weeping.
“Tears that fell at that time… there were feelings of confusion, shock, sorrow, fear and suffering. We prayed. And then we rose and received help in an extraordinary way. Help came from Indonesia and everyone else, our spirits were revived,” he said, hailing the outpouring of aid from global donors.
Mosques held prayers across the province while people visited mass graves — where many of the country’s 170,000 tsunami dead rest. But a Red Cross display of hundreds of salvaged ID documents and bank cards, also served as grim reminder that many victims simply vanished. In southern Thailand, where half of the 5,300 dead were foreign tourists, a smattering of holidaymakers gathered at a memorial park in the small fishing village of Ban Nam Khem, which was obliterated by the waves. As the ceremony began, survivors recounted stories of horror and miraculous survival as the churning waters, laden with the debris of eviscerated bungalows, cars and boats, swept in without warning, killing half of the village’s inhabitants.
Swiss national Raymond Moor said he noticed something was amiss when he saw a white line on the horizon rushing towards the beach where he and his wife were having breakfast. “I told my wife to run for her life… it wasn’t a wave but a black wall,” he said, describing being caught up in the water moments later like “being in a washing machine”.