Asean marks tsunami anniversary 

The 2004 tsunami hits Ao Nang in Thailand. Source: Wikimedia

At least 400 victims from the 2004 tsunami that killed 226,000 people remain unidentified in Thailand, the police announced on the 12th anniversary. 

Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka were among the worst-hit countries with 5,395 people killed in Thailand, which included around 2,000 foreign tourists.

Around 170,000 lives were lost in Indonesia when the 9.1-magnitude “mega-thrust” quake struck near Aceh in northern Sumatra, bringing about massive waves that reached as far as Somalia.

“Since the 2004 tsunami, authorities have contacted between 4,000 to 5,000 relatives to come and receive bodies. There are about 400 bodies that we cannot identify,” said Anand Boonkerkaew, deputy superintendent at Phang Nga province police.

Thailand expects a record 32.4 million foreign tourists this year as increasing numbers of Chinese discover the “land of smiles”.

Critics say Thailand’s tsunami warning system remains inadequate, claiming it is insufficiently maintained. Thailand’s military government denies the allegations.

Thai geology researcher Passakorn Pananont said a repeat of the 2004 disaster was unlikely in the foreseeable future. “Even though scientists still cannot preciously predict an earthquake, which can cause a tsunami, it is very unlikely that the next tsunami will hit our shores soon,” Passakorn opined.

“The tsunami threat on the Andaman coast is currently small, because the tectonic fault near Sumatra and the Andaman islands caused a major earthquake a few years ago. It takes time to build up the energy to cause a new big quake again. This is called an ‘earthquake recurrence interval’.”

Thousands of Indonesians prayed at mass graves and mosques to mark the tsunami which devastated Aceh province and much of the coast around the Indian Ocean.

“I came here every year to pray for my children, daughter-in-law, and their three children,” said Maryam, 65, at the Ulee Lheue mass grave, where 14,800 people were buried.

Maryam, who survived by holding on to a tree trunk, believes her family were buried in the mass grave which is near where they lived.

Graves across Aceh, including in Siron in Aceh Besar district where more than 46,000 were buried, were crowded with people who scattered flowers where they believe their loved ones lie.

Survivors also prayed in Ulee Lheue mosque, one of the few coastal mosques left standing after the tsunami.

“The main reason to commemorate the earthquake and tsunami disaster was not to open old wounds,” acting Aceh governor Soedarmo told the mourners.

Indonesia is on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where the meeting of continental plates causes significant seismic activity.

The tsunami anniversary comes weeks after a 6.5-magnitude shallow earthquake struck inland Pidie Jaya in Aceh, killing more than 100 people, flattening hundreds of buildings and displacing nearly 84,000 residents.