Unmindful of the drizzle in some parts of the island and overcast conditions, Sri Lankans remembered the victims of the tsunami of December 26, 2004.
About 40,000 people, including tourists from abroad, died when the tsunami hit the island nation. A train chugging along the coast-hugging south railway line from Colombo to Galle was washed away, killing over 1,500 passengers.
The government observed the day as National Safety Day. Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne travelled to Jaffna to lead a commemoration meeting. It is the first time the National Safety Day has been observed in the North, according to the government.
A two-minute silence was observed nationwide from 9.25 a.m. as a mark of respect for those who died. Soldiers who lost their lives during the war with the LTTE were also remembered.
At the Tsunami Memorial at a non-descript place between Hikkaduwa and Ambalangoda — the place where the train was washed away — many turned up to pay homage.
In his message, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that to ensure risk reduction, it was important to understand the links between disaster and development. More importantly, the public needed to be aware of disaster risks and measures necessary to reduce them, he added.
Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said his Ministry would focus on disaster mitigation to avoid unnecessary funding for disaster relief every year. “We can save huge amounts of public funds if we take precautionary measures to avoid disaster situations rather than spending money for disaster relief,” said Mr. Amaraweera.
Prompted by the lessons learnt from the Indian Ocean tsunami, the government introduced a comprehensive system of disaster management laying emphasis on preventive aspects rather than mere emergency responses. The Disaster Management Centre said 54 tsunami warning centres had been set up throughout the coastal areas and 25 more would be set up in the North and the East in the coming year.