A year after the Indian Ocean tsunami, a huge recovery operation has brought hope to hundreds of thousands of survivors. But the sorrow, pain and trauma remain strong, along with fears that monster waves could come again.
“We think about the lost lives, lost property and lost jobs,” said Kanagalingan Janenthra, 19, in Sri Lanka’s eastern town of Batticaloa. “We are in fear. Some of us think it might come again.”
About 230,000 people were killed or disappeared in 13 Indian Ocean countries, nearly three quarters of them in Indonesia’s Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra, according to tallies made by individual countries.
Survivors, friends and relatives joined national leaders and foreign dignitaries for memorials in the worst affected countries of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.
In Aceh, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, set off a siren at 8.16am to begin a minute of silence.
“It was under the same blue sky exactly a year ago that Mother Earth unleashed the most destructive power among us,” Yudhoyono said in a flattened suburb of the capital, Banda Aceh.
Construction spending in Aceh will
A 9.15-magnitude earthquake, which lasted eight minutes, set off waves 10m (33 feet) high that smashed into shorelines as far away as East Africa, sweeping holidaymakers off beaches and erasing towns and villages.
A year later, four out of five of the two million people displaced are still living in tents, temporary shelters or piled in with family and friends across the region.
Many people who took part in evening prayers in Banda Aceh said survivors were still living in tents and wooden barracks.
“I would like to ask the president for a house, because right now it’s in a bad condition,” said Marriati, 39, whose house was destroyed. “I had to build a house by myself.”
After a slow start to reconstruction, officials and aid groups say much of the $13.6 billion in pledged donations – the most generously funded humanitarian effort in history – will be deployed for projects next year.
Sri Lankan leader Mahinda Rajapakse
The toll has been difficult to pin down because countries are still trying to update figures. Some parents still hope their children will be found.
“In my heart, I still believe they are alive,” said Yasrati, 38, who placed smiling photos of her 13-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son in a local newspaper.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra laid a foundation stone for a memorial at Khao Lak, a beach resort in southern Thailand where many foreigners died.
In Sweden, which lost 543 people and was worst hit of non-Asian countries, relatives of the dead lit candles and wept as snow fell in a central park in the capital, Stockholm.
“The unthinkable happened and nothing can undo it,” said Martin Jamtlid, who lost nine family members.
Amid the commemorations were stories of courage. British schoolgirl Tilly Smith, dubbed the “Angel of the Beach”, is credited for saving scores of lives at Khao Lak.
A damaged mosque is seen in this
The 11-year-old knew what was happening when she saw the sea recede because she had learned about tsunamis in school. Her warning is thought to have saved 100 lives.
In Sri Lanka’s southern town of Peraliya, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Muslim priests chanted blessings at the site where 1000 people died when their train was hit by the tsunami.
Mahinda Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan president, oversaw two minutes’ silence and placed a floral wreath at the foot of a cresting wave-shaped memorial for the 35,000 who died.
In India’s Nagapattinam district, where the tsunami took half of India’s 12,405 known dead, fishermen stayed away from the sea to pray for the victims.