Asia marks 2004 tsunami disaster in 5th anniversary with prayers

Thousands of saffron-robed Thai monks chanted and prayed for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami on Saturday as Asia marked the fifth anniversary of one of history's worst natural disasters.

Asia marks 2004 tsunami disaster in 5th anniversary with prayers

Thousands of saffron-robed Thai monks chanted and prayed for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami on Saturday as Asia marked the fifth anniversary of one of history's worst natural disasters.

The gathering of monks in Ban Nam Khem, a small fishing village on Thailand's Andaman Sea coast that lost nearly half its 5,000 people, was one of hundreds of solemn events across Asia in memory of the towering waves that crashed ashore with little warning on Dec. 26, 2004, killing 226,000 people in 13 countries.

"All souls from all nationalities, wherever you are now, please receive the prayers the monks are saying for you," said Kularb Pliamyai, who lost 10 family members in Ban Nam Khem.

In Indonesia's Banda Aceh, about 100 people took part in a prayer ceremony close to a fishing boat that landed on the rooftop of a two-storey house after being swept miles inland.

Indonesia was the worst hit with the number of dead and missing over 166,000. Massive reconstruction aid in Banda Aceh has rebuilt a new city on top of the ruins, and many survivors are only now putting memories of the waves behind them.

Some villagers shed tears as they remembered the day their homes and lives were destroyed by the wall of water that rose as high as 30 metres, triggered by an undersea earthquake off the island of Sumatra.

"I will never forget it in all my life. After the earthquake, we ran out of the house and within minutes people screamed on seeing the towering water," said Ambasiah, 40, owner of the house with the fishing boat where about 50 people took refuge.

"When the water got higher, suddenly a boat landed on top of the house. We climbed and stayed there until afternoon. We saw the waves from atop."

Indonesian Vice President Boediono attended another ceremony in Ulee Lheu, a port about 5 km (3 miles) from Banda Aceh which was worst-hit by the tsunami.

"After five years, the government of Aceh and Aceh people, with the help of the central government and the international society, have resurrected Aceh to start a new life and rebuild Aceh," he told a gathering of about 1,000 people.

Some locals such as Taufik Rahmat say they have moved on, helped along by new homes in the Banda Aceh region following one of the largest foreign fund-raising exercises. But still pockets of people in his village remain homeless.

"Not all elements have been fulfilled, I think about 80 percent to 90 percent of the people still don't have proper housing," he said.

Frifghtened of the sea

Thailand's Ban Nam Khem village is a shadow of its former self. Its once-thriving centre of dense waterfront stores, restaurants and wooden homes is gone, replaced with souvenir shops, a wave-shaped monument and a small building filled with photographs of the tsunami recovery effort.

Many former residents are now too frightened of the sea to rebuild close to the water.

"I still feel bad about what happened. People from all over the world were killed here. It's their misfortune," Kularb said.

In Thailand, 5,398 people were killed, including several thousand foreign tourists, when the waves swamped six coastal provinces, turning some of the world's most beautiful beaches into mass graves. Many are still missing.

In Patong, a Thai beach resort village bustling with tourists, local artists performed traditional Thai songs and Buddhist monks chanted as tourists and locals gathered in a pavilion to look at photographs of the tsunami's damage. A candlelight vigil was planned for evening.

"We come and stay here because we are alive," said Ruschitschka Adolf, a 73-year-old German who survived the tsunami, as his wife Katherina waded into Patong's turquoise waters to lay white roses in the waves in memory of the dead.

Almost all of those killed were vacationing on or around the southern island of Phuket, a region that had contributed as much as 40 percent of Thailand's annual tourism income.

Aid drying up

Tsunami aid efforts have mostly finished, said Patrick Fuller, Tsunami Communications Coordinator at the Red Cross.

"A lot of the physical reconstruction has ended. There are some major infrastructure projects that are still going on. There are some road projects, longer term projects. But all the housing projects are pretty much wrapped up," he said.

The Red Cross built 51,000 houses over the past five years, mostly in the Maldives and Indonesia.

But locals say they need more than new buildings, clean-water plants and other infrastructure.

"The economy has not recovered," said Rotjana Phraesrithong, who is in charge of the Baan Tharn Namchai Orphanage, opened in 2006 for 35 children who lost parents in the tsunami.

Dozens of small hotels and resorts are up for sale in Thailand's Phang Nga province north of Phuket whose forested coastline includes Ban Nam Khem and the serene 19-km (12-mile) Khao Lak beach, two of Thailand's worst tsunami-hit areas.

"More than 100 of these small hotels and retail tour operators are looking to sell their operations because they can't obtain loans from banks to keep going," said Krit Srifa, president of the Phang Nga Tourism Association.

A symbol of the catastrophe, the Sofitel Magic Lagoon where more than 300 guests and staff died, re-opened last month as the 298-room JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort & Spa.

In Patong, tourism is down but few blame the tsunami.

"The only time people seem to talk about the tsunami is in December during the anniversary," said Pattahanant Ketkaew, a 27-year-old manager at Phuket2Go tours near Patong beach. "Tourism is off but that's because of the global economy."

Reuters
Last Mod: 26 Aralık 2009, 18:39
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