Meulaboh, Indonesia: Nations across Asia marked four years since the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami Friday with prayers and remembrance of one of the world’s worst natural disasters.
Thousands gathered in fields, on beaches and by mass graves to commemorate the disaster that killed around 220,000 people when walls of water smashed into coastal communities across the region.
In Indonesia’s Aceh province, the heaviest-hit region with at least 168,000 killed in the 2004 disaster, thousands gathered in the shattered remains of a military base in the coastal town of Meulaboh for a sombre Islamic prayer ceremony.
“The four-year anniversary of the tsunami holds deep meaning, because right here we witnessed the first place the waters of the tsunami came into Aceh,” local government head Ramli Mansur told the crowd.
“We are here to remember the martyrs who were killed in the tsunami and to give us momentum to rebuild a better Aceh,” he said.
“I came here to remember my beloved mother, my son and my brothers and sisters who were killed in the tsunami,” said Sariani, a teary 20-year-old street seller.
Prayers were held in mosques throughout the staunchly Islamic province, including tearful ceremonies at mass graves in the tsunami-devastated capital of Banda Aceh and along the province’s coastline, local media said.
Indonesia also marked the anniversary with tsunami drills at the northern end of the sprawling island of Sulawesi and on Java island, local media reported.
In Sri Lanka, the country that suffered the second highest death toll from the tsunami, the government asked people to observe two minutes of silence in memory of the victims.
Religious services were held across the island’s coastline for the estimated 31,000 people who perished there in the disaster.
Officials said the government’s newly set up disaster management authority had by Friday commissioned 25 out of 50 tsunami early warning towers planned after the disaster.
In Thailand, where 5,400 people were killed, half of them foreign tourists, hundreds of people gathered along the country’s southwest coast to place wreaths, float lanterns and release sea turtles to commemorate the disaster.
In the tourist hotspot of Phuket, around 1,000 residents and tourists gathered on the main Patong beach, with three other events held elsewhere on the island.
Thousands of candles were to be lit and placed in coconut shells along a three-kilometre (two-mile) stretch of Kamala beach, south of Patong, in a ceremony attended by foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, a provincial official said.
Recovery has been uneven across the countries hit by the tsunami, despite a massive outpouring of billions of dollars in international aid.
In Indonesia, reconstruction has been viewed as a qualified success with $6.7 billion of a pledged $7.2 billion in aid already spent to build nearly 125,000 homes as well as schools, roads and bridges, according to the reconstruction agency, although many survivors still remain without homes.
Concerns also linger of a return to instability when aid dries up in Aceh, which has been at peace since a 2005 deal in the wake of the tsunami brought an end to three decades of fighting between seperatist rebels and Jakarta that killed at least 15,000.
Ongoing fighting between Tamil separatists and the government in Sri Lanka has also hampered rebuilding there, with 10,000 people still living in temporary camps.