x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Tears, and progress, four years on

Thousands gathered for prayers, ceremonies and candlelit vigils on the beaches of the Indian Ocean in remembrance to the tsunami that hit the region.

Mourners light candles during a remembrance service to mark the fourth anniversary of the Asian tsunami at Dolphin Park, on Patong Beach, in Phuket, Thailand, on Dec 26 2008.
Mourners light candles during a remembrance service to mark the fourth anniversary of the Asian tsunami at Dolphin Park, on Patong Beach, in Phuket, Thailand, on Dec 26 2008.

Thousands gathered for prayers, ceremonies and candlelit vigils on the beaches of the Indian Ocean yesterday, reflecting on what was taken and what had been left behind after the devastating tsunami four years ago. The massive tidal waves, which were sparked by a magnitude 9 earthquake on the Indian Ocean floor, left more than 230,000 dead from South Africa to Indonesia.

But the tsunami also elicited the largest international response to a natural disaster in history as US$7 billion (Dh25.7bn) poured in from governments, aid groups, institutions and individuals around the world. It also helped bring to an end a bloody insurgency in Indonesia's Aceh province, which saw the worst of the disaster and more than half of its victims. Though many aid agencies are now closing down their missions, yesterday's ceremonies reminded the world of the personal tragedies that persist for the families who lost loved ones.

"I came here to remember my beloved mother, my son and my brothers and sisters who were killed in the tsunami," Sariani, a 20-year-old street seller in Banda Aceh, told Agence France-Presse. "When the tsunami hit, we were all trapped in the house. My husband, my daughter and I survived while the others were killed because they couldn't reach the second floor of the building next to our house." In Sri Lanka, a two-minute silence was held for the estimated 31,000 who died there - the second largest single country death toll. Also yesterday, the Queen of the Sea, a coastal train that lost 1,000 passengers when a wave swept it off its track, made its first journey since the tragedy four years ago.

In India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, fishermen and families offered prayers to the estimated 6,500 people who died there. Women cried and beat their chests during memorial services, according to the Associated Press. Despite the horror of the tsunami, it also provided opportunities for some countries, said Jonathan Cauldwell, Unicef's chief of tsunami transition support. "It allowed those areas to be built up as well; to have investments in infrastructure, in social services, and more importantly building capacities at a local level so that the countries themselves can take on programming to the longer term."

mbradley@thenational.ae