BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – Thirteen years ago Tuesday, the deadly Indian Ocean Tsunami slammed into the coast of Indonesia’s northwestern Aceh province, but for local resident Rohani, it seems like it only happened yesterday.
“I cannot count how many (relatives) I lost other than my three children,” she told epa on Tuesday at the Ulee Lheue mass grave site near the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.
“Every year, I come to this mass grave to pray for my family and hope that they will stay in heaven. Every year, I go to three mass graves (to pray).”
The Ulee Lheue mass grave contains the bodies of some 20,000 victims of the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami which ravaged Banda Aceh and other villages along the coast, along with areas by the sea in neighboring countries.
Some 50,000 bodies are buried at another local mass grave, near the airport.
Acehnese people like Rohani have come to Ulee Lheue every year since the disaster to remember the victims and join mass prayer ceremonies and disaster preparation drills.
Since early Tuesday, mourners, including widows and orphans, began gathering on the grass at Ulee Lheue where they prayed and read from the Koran.
Local Buddhists and Christians tend to visit the mass grave near the airport to pay their respects to victims.
Banda Aceh mayor Aminullah, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, spoke at the ceremony on Tuesday, urging attendees to learn from the past.
“We have to learn a lot from the 2004 disaster (so that) we can make our future better, especially in disaster preparation,” he said.
The 2004 tsunami was triggered by a massive, magnitude-9.1 earthquake and killed at least 230,000 people in several countries of South and Southeast Asia and some in eastern and southern Africa.
Most of the victims were in Indonesia as the earthquake’s epicenter was just off the west coast of the island of Sumatra and Aceh was one the worst-affected areas.