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Thousands remember Boxing Day tsunami

December 26, 2014

Ceremonies have been held across Asia to commemorate the victims of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that devastated coastal areas along the Indian Ocean. More than 220,000 people died in the disaster.

Two Indonesian police pray at mass grave to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Boxing Day tsunami on December 26, 2014 in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images
Image: Getty Images/U. Ifansasti

Memorial ceremonies were held on Friday across countries hit by the massive tsunami of December 26, 2004, which caused widespread destruction in coastal areas of 14 countries and killed at least 220,000 people, three quarters of them in Indonesia.

The region that was hit first and hardest was Indonesia's Aceh province, which was struck initially by the earthquake that triggered the tsunami, then by massive waves that swept away all in their path. Vice President Jusuf Kalla led a prayer ceremony attended by thousands in the capital, Banda Aceh, during which he and other officials laid flowers at a mass grave holding the remains of thousands of unknown tsunami victims

In a separate event, Indonesia thanked ambassadors from the many foreign countries that helped Aceh recover from the disaster.

In Sri Lanka, survivors and relatives of the some 1,000 passengers who died when a passenger train was derailed by the waters, boarded the restored Ocean Queen Express to travel to a memorial ceremony at Peraliya, some 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of the capital, Colombo, where the train was torn from the tracks. Altogether some 31,000 people were killed across the country.

An aerial shot taken from a helicopter shows villagers search for the missing along railroad tracks at Telwatte, about 100 kilometers (63 miles) south of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2004. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Sri Lanka was completely unprepared for the disasterImage: picture alliance/AP Photo

In Thailand, where more than 5,000 people were killed - half of them tourists from 38 different nations, including more than 500 Germans - more than 100 survivors, together with bereaved relatives from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, gathered for a memorial service in the resort town of Khao Lak, laying flowers in the sea.

Another ceremony was to be held on Friday afternoon in Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden, which lost 543 of its nationals to the disaster.

'Undiminished terror'

In a statement issued on the occasion of the anniversary, German President Joachim Gauck remembered the victims of the tsunami and expressed thanks for the aid that poured into the affected regions from all over the world.

"The pictures made at the time have not lost their terror," Gauck said, and expressed sympathy with those who still suffered at the memory of what had happened.

"For many people, December 26 is a day when they fear their own trauma," he said.

At the same time, the president cited eyewitnesses who "tell of courageous people who became lifesavers and shared the little that they still possessed."

More than $13.5 billion (11.07 billion euros) were collected around the world in the months following the disaster. Almost $7 billion went towards rebuilding more than 140,000 houses in Indonesia's Aceh province.

In 2011, a tsunami warning system was set up across the world's oceans to ensure that coastal residents can be better protected in future.

tj/sb (AFP, AP, epd)