Five years after a massive tsunami triggered deadly tidal waves across Asia, low—key ceremonies Saturday marked the solemn anniversary with prayers and moments of silence for the 230,000 people killed.

The devastating Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami struck a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean rim. It eradicated entire coastal communities, decimated families and crashed over tourist—filled beaches the morning after Christmas. Survivors waded through a horror show of corpse—filled waters.

Survivors were among the hundreds of people who returned to the white—sand beaches in southern Thailand on Saturday to recall one of the worst natural disasters of modern times.

A moment of silence was observed on Phuket’s Patong Beach, a popular strip of hotels and restaurants, to mark the moment the tsunami struck.

Dozens of Buddhist monks in bright orange robes chanted prayers. Onlookers wept and embraced.

Giorgio Capriccioli, an Italian who lives on Phuket, carried a bouquet of white flowers into the ocean.

He waded knee—deep in water that five years ago was clogged with corpses and cast the flowers adrift to honor the memory of two friends. His wife owns several beach—front shops but decided not to go to work the morning the tsunami struck.

“My wife would be dead if it weren’t for the fact that she were pregnant and didn’t go to work that day,” he said at a ceremony that also attracted sun—drenched tourists in skimpy swimsuits, as well as Thai residents.

The ceremonies on Phuket were to culminate in the evening with candle—lighting ceremonies and the release of hundreds of light—filled lanterns into the sky.

Memorial services were also planned elsewhere in Asia.

In the Indonesian province of Aceh on Sumatra island, which was hardest—hit by the disaster, some mosques held prayer services Friday.

The tsunami was sparked by an 9.2—magnitude underwater earthquake off Sumatra {mdash} the mightiest earthquake in 40 years.

More than 8,000 Thais and foreign vacationers perished in Thailand. Coastal communities in Sri Lanka and India lost some 48,000 people between them. Indonesia’s loss of about 167,000 accounted for well more than half of the total death toll.

DPA reports

Relatives of people who died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated Indonesia’s Aceh province prayed at the graves of loved ones on Saturday to mark the anniversary.

A solemn prayer ceremony to remember about 170,000 people who died in Aceh and some 60,000 others across Indian Ocean countries was held in the provincial capital Banda Aceh.

Vice President Boediono led the ceremony in the Ule Lhue area overlooking the sea, and later visited one of the mass graves where unidentified tsunami victims were buried.

Idris, a 45-year-old man who supervised temporary barracks that housed some of the survivors in Banda Aceh, said he lost his wife and four children in the tsunami.

“I tried to look for their bodies, but they were never found,” he said.

“I’m sure they are buried in one of the mass graves. I never stop praying for them.” Post-tsunami reconstruction in Aceh has been hailed by donors as a success.

More than 130,000 houses, 2,700 kilometres of roads, around 1,000 bridges and 1,500 kilometres of irrigation channels have been built in a massive international effort.

“The Indonesian government has taken the lead to bring about the most successful reconstruction effort,” World Bank country director Joachim von Amsberg said last week.

“We are very proud and happy to be part of that story,” he said.

But officials said some problems persisted, including the fact that some of the survivors had not received houses and still live in temporary barracks.

“We have built enough houses but the problem is some people received more than one house,” said Iskandar, the head of the Aceh Sustainable Reconstruction Agency, known as BKRA.

BKRA replaced the Aceh-Nias Reconstruction Agency after its four-year mandate expired in April.

He said his office was working with the police and district governments to try to sort out the matter.

Aceh Deputy Governor Muhammad Nazar said the Multi-Donor Fund, which was established by governments and international agencies, still had 22 projects in the province as part of a 700-million-dollar reconstruction program.

With the departure of most aid workers and an unemployment rate of 10 per cent, job creation is a major concern in Aceh, Mr. Nazar said.

“Economic development and job creation are important parts of the recovery process,” Mr. Nazar said.

He said a 50-million-dollar project was being drawn up to support the economy and create jobs in the agriculture and fisheries sectors.

The 2004 tsunami was triggered by a 9.2 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, with Aceh being the worst hit.


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