Communities across Asia commemorated the 230,000 victims of the SEAsia tsunami on Thursday, the 15th anniversary of one of the world’s most deadly disasters.
On the morning after Christmas Day in 2004, a 9.1 magnitude quake off northern Sumatra island triggered a tsunami with waves as high as 17.4 meters (57 feet) that swept over vulnerable coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other countries.
Memorials were scheduled in the Indonesian province of Aceh, where entire villages were flattened and more than 125,000 people perished in the giant waves.
Since then, the area has been largely rebuilt, with some 25,600 residential, commercial, government and school buildings constructed inside a high-risk zone, that had suffered virtually total devastation in 2004.
In Thailand, where more than 5,300 people were killed, including tourists visiting resort islands in the Andaman Sea, officials held a memorial ceremony and called for more awareness and preparedness for disasters.
“The government wants to lift safety standards… and build awareness across all sectors in preparing and protecting people against disasters,” Deputy Interior Minister, Nipon Bunyamanee, said at an opening ceremony.
He said Dec. 26 had been designated national accident prevention day.
Officials later laid wreaths at a memorial center in Phang Nga province to pay tribute to King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s nephew, Bhumi Jensen, who was last seen jet-skiing off the coast when the tsunami hit.
An interfaith service for Muslim, Christian and Buddhist victims was also held.
Survivors from Ban Nam Khem, the worst hit Thai village, will hold a candlelight vigil in the evening. At least 1,400 people were killed when waves struck the fishing village.
In India, where more than 10,000 people died in the tsunami, survivors also were to hold memorial ceremonies. More than 35,000 people died in Sri Lanka.
Those killed in 2004 received no formal warning of the approaching waves and had almost no chance to get out of the way.
Since then, millions of dollars have gone into a vast network of seismic and tsunami information centres, setting up sea and coastal instruments and erecting warning towers.
More than US$400 million has been spent across 28 countries on the early-warning system, comprising 101 sea-level gauges, 148 seismometers and nine buoys.
But doubts linger about how ready countries on the Indian Ocean really are for another giant wave.
Some experts say complacency about the maintenance of the system is leaving millions vulnerable and governments still warn of the ever-present risks.