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Monday, December 26, 2005

Everyone's Disaster

A Year After the Flood

Countries around the Indian Ocean have begun commemorations marking one year since the tsunami which killed some 200,000 people.

In Indonesia, which was hardest hit, the province of Aceh observed a minute's silence at the moment the first waves struck.

Sri Lankan leaders will visit the site where a train known as 'The Queen of the Sea' was engulfed.

Hundreds of Swedes will be among other Western mourners attending ceremonies in Thailand's beach resorts.

An earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, believed to be the second-biggest on record, sent giant waves thousands of kilometres across the ocean.

Countries as far apart as Malaysia and Somalia were affected.

Heaviest losses
Aceh was closest to the epicentre of the earthquake and a third of the total number of people who died across the region died there.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called the minute's silence at a ceremony on a jetty outside the city of Banda Aceh, where around 1,000 invited guests sat in front of a specially erected stage.

A haunting recitation from the Koran opened the commemorations, the BBC's Rachel Harvey reports - then a siren rang out across the flattened landscape, marking the moment when the first wave struck.

The president paid tribute to those who had tried to rebuild their lives over the past year, saying they were a reminder that "life is worth struggling for".

In Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapakse is due to lead a tribute in the southern village of Peraliya, where a train was swept off the tracks by the waves.

After a two-minute silence, the president will unveil a monument to the 31,000 people who died.

Emotional return
The Thai island of Phuket, and the beachside resort of Patong in particular, decided that as well as commemorating the anniversary of the disaster today, it would also celebrate Christmas.

The scene is one that could be seen in any country in the West on Christmas Day.

The band played old favourites, the menu included turkey with all the trimmings and Santa Claus made regular appearances.

But this is a town still coming to terms with a devastating tsunami almost exactly a year ago.

Meanwhile thousands of people are expected to take part in commemorations in Thailand on a stretch of coast known as Khao Lak, today.

The official death toll stands at 5,395, two-fifths of them foreign tourists.

Mourning with the locals will be some of the survivors and relatives of foreign victims including the 543 Swedes who died, making their country the worst affected state outside the region.

"I think you need to come back," Swedish survivor Pigge Werkelin, who lost his two young sons and his wife in the disaster, told Reuters news agency.

"You need to go to the beach, you have to see children on the beach, you have to see everything... I must do it and then afterward I can put it behind me."

Thailand's commemorations will culminate with a candlelit commemoration attended by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Chong Fah Beach.

Hundreds of floating lanterns will be released into the night sky to remember those who died.

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