12 years after Asia tsunami, 400 bodies still unidentified in Thailand

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 December, 2016, 2:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 December, 2016, 11:07pm

At least 400 victims of Asia’s 2004 tsunami that killed 226,000 people remain unidentified in Thailand 12 years after one of the worst natural disasters in human history.

The 9.15 magnitude December 26 earthquake triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean in one of the biggest natural disasters in history.

Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka were among the worst hit countries. Some 5,395 people were killed in Thailand, among them about 2,000 foreign tourists.

“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,” Anand Boonkerkaew, deputy superintendent of Takua Pa district police in Phang Nga province, said.

Thailand’s tourist high season is in full swing and in much of the area affected by the tsunami, it is business as usual. New hotels have replaced those flattened by the wall of water.

Thailand expects a record 32.4 million foreign tourists this year.

Critics have said Thailand’s tsunami warning system remains inadequate, partly because it isn’t maintained properly. The government has said it is in good order.

In Aceh, thousands of Indonesians prayed for their loved ones at mass graves and mosques Monday to mark the tsunami which devastated the province.

Some 170,000 lives were lost in the country when a the “megathrust” quake struck Aceh, a predominantly Muslim province in the northern tip of Sumatra island, bringing about massive waves that also hit coastal areas as far away as Somalia.

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

The bodies of her family were never found but 65-year-old Maryam, who survived by holding on to a tree trunk, was certain her family were buried in the mass grave as they lived in the vicinity at the time of the tsunami.

Graves across the province, including in Siron in Aceh Besar district where more than 46,000 were buried, were crowded with people who scattered flowers on the earth where they believe the remains of their loved ones lie to rest.

Survivors then gathered at a mass prayer in Ulee Lheue mosque, one of the few sea-front mosques still standing in the region 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 mosque attendance.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where the meeting of continental plates causes strong seismic activity, and is frequently hit by earthquakes.

The tsunami commemoration comes just weeks after a strong 6.5-magnitude shallow quake struck inland in Pidie Jaya, a district in Aceh, killing more than 100 people, levelling hundreds of buildings and displacing nearly 84,000 people.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse