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Asia remembers 230,000 victims of tsunami decade on

By Staff Reporter

Beachside memorials and religious services have been held across Asia to mark the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that left more than 230,000 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 230,000 people. It eradicated entire coastal communities, decimated families and crashed over tourist-filled beaches.

As part of the 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, a 51-year-old 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 9.1 earthquake - the region's most powerful in 40 years - that tore open the seabed off 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 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 33 feet high surged inland for miles with seemingly unstoppable force, carrying along trees, houses, trains -and thousands of people - in a churning rush.

More than 170,000 people died in Indonesia alone.

Indonesian vice president Jusuf Kalla said: "No words can describe our human feelings at that time - confused, shocked, sad, scared - in seeing the suffering of the people in Aceh. But we could not remain in sadness, Aceh had to rise again, and all Indonesians in this archipelago helped, people all over the world offered their assistance."

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