Saturday, 26 December 2009
Tsunami remembrance in Thailand and other Tsunami affected countries.
Candle- lit ballons soaring over tree tops, a moving tsunami poem from a young high school student, haunting music from a high school orchestra, songs in French and Thai and a remembrance tribute and prayer from a Christian pastor, were moving moments at Patong Beach, Thailand, on 26 December. Throughout the ceremony, the sea, only 30 metres away, was lapping the shore and reminded us of hidden dangers
Earlier in the day at Patong, (photo above) a Thai beach resort village bustling with tourists, local artists performed traditional Thai songs in a pavilion where tourists gathered to look at photographs of the tsunami's damage.
Having spent most of the last five years of my life, working for the Red Cross on Tsunami relief and recovery operations, I found it a very soothing and healing event, to participate with mainly gentle Thai people and a scattering of foreigners. Ablai, my ten year old son was with me and he got emotionally caught up in the moment, and simply loved helping light the candles in paper ballos, and send them flying heavenward.
Closure takes time, and I watched a mixture of pain and relief on the face of a young Scandanavian woman, who placed a bunch of white roses near a lit candle on the beach. She somhow looked at peace.
Thumbs up to the Tsunami recovery operation.
Ceremonies took place in Indonesia on Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami that struck after a huge earthquake off Sumatra island in 2004.
The tsunami killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, with 166,000 killed or missing in the Indonesian province of Aceh.
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.
Disposing bodies in the first days.
In Indonesia's Banda Aceh, survivors gathered in neighbourhood mosques or homes on the eve of the anniversary to remember those killed by a wall of water as high as 30 metres triggered by an undersea earthquake off the island of Sumatra.
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.
"The psychology of the Acehnese people is starting to recover after five years," said Eva Susanti, who lost 125 members of her extended family in the Banda Aceh area.
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.
FRIGHTENED 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.
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.
> New Red Cross village in Mate Ie, Aceh. Photo: Bob McKerrow
"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.
"Many small operators are still in debt after renovations since the tsunami and many just haven't recovered financially."
Materials for building houses had to be taken by landing crafts to remote Indonesian Islands.
On Khao Lak beach, where the tsunami killed more than 3,000 people, there's little physical evidence of it aside from occasional "Tsunami Hazard Zone" signs and colour-coded evacuation maps.
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."
And to serve as a reminder, a strong earthquake struck off Indonesia's Tanimbar Islands in the east of the country on Saturday, but there was no tsunami alert issued and no reports of immediate damage, the country's meteorology agency said.
The US Geological Survey pegged the quake at magnitude 6.0 and its epicentre was 270 km north northwest of Saumlaki in the Tanimbar islands at a depth of 56 km
USGS had initially put the magnitude at 6.2.
After the Tsunami ceremony last night, I popped into a bar for a nightcap. A waitress brought me a drink. Her name was Thu. there were few customers around so I asked her where she was when the Tsunami struck. Her face darkened and she seemed to shrink back as memories flooded back. " I was right here. Waves went out and many people ran to collect fish. I stayed here. A few minutes later a huge wave smased into bar and threw me into the corner. I nearly drowned. someone saved me, I broke my arm. One foreign tourist died just there. We took her body away. many people die right here," she said sadly.
Five years doesn't heal the wounds fully.