PERELIYA, Sri Lanka — A packed train in Sri Lanka that was swept off its tracks by waves as big as elephants. A boat patrolling off Thailand’s shore hurled more than a mile inland. Streets in Indonesia turned into roaring rivers that carried people to their deaths.
Vivid memories such as these were recalled Friday at ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that left nearly a quarter-million people dead in one of modern history’s worst natural disasters.
The Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami was triggered by a magnitude-9.1 earthquake — the region’s most powerful in 40 years — that tore open the seabed off Indonesia’s Sumatran coast. Billions of tons of water were displaced, sending waves roaring across the Indian Ocean at jetliner speeds as far away as East Africa.
Weeping survivors and others took part in beachside memorials and religious services across Asia, while some European countries also marked the anniversary, remembering the thousands of Christmastime tourists who died in the disaster.
“There is no need for anyone to remind us — the sorrow will be there until I stop breathing,” said Kapila Migelratne, 50, a businessman who lost his 14-year-old son and his brother when the train they were riding was derailed along Sri Lanka’s shoreline.
More than 35,000 people in Sri Lanka died in the tsunami, including as many as 2,000 in what is regarded as the world’s worst train accident.
In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where more than 6,000 people died, Liguvariyal Daveed — a tsunami survivor who lost her son, mother and two grandchildren in the disaster — said the fear from that day remains with her.
“Whenever we see the ocean, we get reminded of how this same ocean took away all these people,” she said at a ceremony in the town of Kanyakumari. “You can’t even imagine how much we fear the sea now. We didn’t even want to stay close to it, so we moved … away from the sea, in a small house allotted to me by the government.”
Many at the memorial ceremonies celebrated how people — locals and the international community alike — pulled together in the wake of the tragedy, saving strangers and launching a process to build back better.
Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova was vacationing in Khao Lak with her fiance, Simon Atlee, when the waves struck. He drowned and she barely survived with serious injuries, including a broken pelvis.
After recovering, she founded the Happy Hearts Fund to rebuild schools devastated by natural disasters.
“Ten years ago, everyone who is present here today got connected in a very profound way, and through our experience, which we have shared, our lives have been connected ever since,” Nemcova told the crowd at Friday’s ceremony. “The 2004 tsunami didn’t connect just those of us here, but the whole world, as individuals, families and countries have been asking, ‘How can we help?’ “
Deaths from the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India
International aid that helped pay for rebuilding after the disaster