- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2005

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Survivors wept and prayed beside mass graves and at beachside memorials yesterday, marking one year since earthquake-churned walls of water crashed ashore in 13 nations, sweeping away hundreds of thousands of lives and uniting the world in grief and horror.

Mourners filled mosques in Indonesia’s shattered Aceh province, the region hit hardest. Candlelight vigils in chilly Sweden remembered citizens lost during sunny vacations. An achingly personal tribute — a bouquet of white roses — was stuck in the sand in Thailand.

British schoolgirl Tilly Smith, dubbed the “Angel of the Beach” for saving scores of lives during the Dec. 26 tsunami, returned to Thailand to commemorate the anniversary with a poem.

The 11-year-old knew what was happening when she saw the sea draw back from a Khao Lak beach in southern Thailand because she had learned about tsunamis in school. Her adamant warning of looming danger is credited with saving 100 lives.

In a taped message, President Bush recalled “the acts of courage and kindness that made us proud” in the sorrowful days after the disaster. Former President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy for tsunami recovery, promised not to let the world forget its pledges of aid.

Survivors relived the terrible awe they felt when the sea rose as high as 33 feet and surged inland for miles with seemingly unstoppable force, carrying along trees, houses, train cars — and thousands of people — in a churning rush.

“It was under the same blue sky, exactly one year ago, that Mother Earth unleashed her most destructive power upon us,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told a crowd at a ceremony in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, which counts about 156,000 dead or missing.

He sounded a tsunami-warning siren — part of a system that did not exist last year — at 8:16 a.m., the moment the first wave hit, to herald a minute’s silence.

On Dec. 26, 2004, the region’s most powerful earthquake in 40 years tore open the seabed off the Sumatran coast, displacing billions of tons of water and sending waves roaring across the Indian Ocean at jetliner speeds as far away as East Africa.

The impact was staggering. Water swept a passenger train from its tracks in Sri Lanka, killing nearly 2,000 people in a single blow. Entire villages in Indonesia and India disappeared. Lobbies of five-star hotels in Thailand were filled with corpses.

At least 230,000 people were left dead or missing and nearly 2 million lost their homes in a disaster that still rends hearts.

Yesterday, about the time the waves hit a year ago, a man sat alone on Patong Beach in Thailand weeping quietly as the sea gently lapped before him, belying its earlier fury. A white rose bouquet jutted from the sand nearby.

Somber ceremonies were held around the world.

In Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapakse met with survivors near the site of the deadly train accident. Butchers hung up their knives to show respect for life, and Buddhist monks chanted prayers through the night.

Thousands of Indians attended an interfaith service at an 18th-century church, then marched to a mass burial ground.

Sweden, Germany, Finland and other European countries held memorials to mourn their dead. The tsunami killed more than 2,400 foreigners, many of them European tourists, in Thailand.

Somalis gathered in mosques along the East African nation’s coast to commemorate the 289 persons who disappeared in the waves and to pray for the tens of thousands still homeless.

“It was so brutal, so quick, and so extensive that we are still struggling to fully comprehend it,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a videotaped message played in Banda Aceh.

The tsunami generated one of the most generous outpourings of foreign aid ever known — about $13 billion in pledges. But frustration is growing among the 1.4 million people still living in tents, plywood barracks or with family and friends.

“You want to talk about changes, we’ve seen nothing,” said Baihqi, a 24-year-old Acehnese survivor. The anniversary “just means we’ve existed for one year,” he said.

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