- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 27, 2009

PHUKET, Thailand | Buddhist monks in orange robes chanted on a Thai beach, an Indonesian mother mourned her children at a mass grave, and a man scattered flowers in now-placid waters Saturday to commemorate the 230,000 killed five years ago when a tsunami ripped across Asia.

An outpouring of aid - more than $13 billion - that followed the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami has helped replace homes, schools and entire coastal communities decimated by the disaster. But at Saturday’s ceremonies, survivors spoke of the enduring wounds.

Thousands in Indonesia’s Aceh province, which was hardest hit, held prayer services at mosques and beside the mass graves where tens of thousands were buried. The 167,000 people who died in Indonesia accounted for more than half the total death toll.

Among them were the relatives of Siti Amridar, a 48-year-old woman who wept Saturday at a mass grave in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital. She was a mother of five, until the tsunami claimed four of her children, her parents and washed away their village.

“I don’t know where my children have been buried, or my parents. They have never been found,” she said, sobbing. “I still can’t believe the tsunami destroyed my life and my family in just a few minutes.”

The disaster’s epicenter was off the coast of Aceh, on the island of Sumatra, where a 9.2-magnitude earthquake struck underwater. The quake toppled homes and buildings and sent panicked communities rushing into the streets.

About 20 minutes later, a wall of water up to six stories high surged in from the sea. Traveling at jetliner speed, it carried with it toppled trees, crumpled cars and refrigerators. The wave sent people scrambling up the sides of buildings and in search of higher ground.

In Thailand on Saturday, hundreds of residents and foreigners returned to the white-sand beaches on the southern island of Phuket. More than 8,000 people were killed along the country’s shores.

A moment of silence was observed on Phuket’s Patong Beach, a popular strip of hotels and restaurants, where the waves crashed over throngs of tourists the morning after Christmas.

Buddhist monks chanted prayers. Onlookers wept and embraced.

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

He waded knee-deep in water that five years ago was clogged with corpses and cast the white flowers adrift to honor the memory of two friends.

The commemorations on Phuket culminated in the evening with the release of hundreds of light-filled lanterns into the sky.

Traffic across Sri Lanka came to a standstill Saturday as people around the country observed two minutes of silence for the 35,000 people who died there.

A ceremony was held at the southern coastal village of Peraliya, where the waves mangled a passing train and killed hundreds of passengers. At the site of the wreckage, which was one of the most enduring images of disaster, relatives of the dead lit candles and placed flowers where a monument now stands.

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