Crying onlookers took part in beachside memorials and religious services across Asia yesterday to mark the tenth anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that left more than a quarter million people dead in one of modern history's worst natural disasters.
The devastating December 26, 2004, tsunami struck a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean rim, killing about 230,000 people, including Irish victims Michael Murphy (23) from Co Wexford, Eilis Finnegan (27) from Dublin, Lucy Coyle (28) from Dublin and Conor Keightley (31) from Tyrone.
The wave eradicated entire coastal communities, decimated families and crashed over tourist-filled beaches the morning after Christmas. Survivors waded through a horror show of corpse-filled waters.
As part of yesterday's solemn commemorations, survivors, government officials, diplomats and families of victims gathered in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere.
Moments of silence were held in several spots to mark the exact time the tsunami struck, a moment that united the world in grief.
"I cannot forget the smell of the air, the water at that time ... even after 10 years," said Teuku Ahmad Salman (51), a resident who joined thousands of people in a prayer service in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
"I cannot forget how I lost hold of my wife, my kids, my house," he said sobbing, recounting that he refused to believe for years that they had died but finally gave up looking for them.
The disaster was triggered by a magnitude-9.1 earthquake - the region's most powerful in 40 years - that tore open the seabed off of Indonesia's Sumatran coast, displacing billions of tons of water and sending waves roaring across the Indian Ocean at jetliner speeds as far away as East Africa.
Indonesia's Aceh province, which was closest to the quake's epicenter, was hit first and hardest. Initially, the quake toppled homes and buildings and sent panicked communities rushing into the streets. About 20 minutes later, a wall of water up to 10 meters (33 feet) high surged inland for kilometers with seemingly unstoppable force, carrying along trees, houses, train cars - and thousands of people - in a churning rush.
More than 170,000 people died in Indonesia alone, more than three-quarters of the total death toll.
In Thailand, where more than 5,000 people were killed, about half of whom were tourists celebrating the holiday season, more than 100 international survivors of the tsunami held a memorial service on a beach in Khao Lak.
They walked into the waves and placed flowers in the warm Andaman Sea, while diplomats put wreaths on the sand.
"I didn't expect it would touch me so much after 10 years again because I've come back every now and then in recent years," said tsunami survivor Claudia Geist of Germany, who was so badly injured during the disaster she almost lost her leg. "But this has been a completely different experience now connecting with all the other people."
In Sri Lanka that day, the water swept a passenger train from its tracks, killing nearly 2,000 people in a single blow. The locomotive and five of the original carriages, decorated with Buddhist flags, made a memorial journey yesterday over the deadly route, carrying survivors who mourned the dead and missing.