Friday, December 23, 2005

One Year Anniversary of the S. Asian Tsunami

A beautiful beach near Galle, Sri Lanka
where the ocean is serene and predictable except on
the morning of December 26, 2004
(Picture by Vince Isner)

It is hard to believe but it is almost a year since that horrible day in Southern Asia. It was 6:45 a.m. on the day after Christmas that we were woken up by telephone calls from friends telling us of the tragedy. A very close friend, Tamara Mendis, died that day in the tsunami. The tragedy touched us personally. For me, Christmas will always be tinged with the painful memories of this devastation.

An unprecedented earthquake of 9.0 magnitude on the Richter scale struck at the bottom of the ocean near Sumathra causing the tsunami waves. Of the countries affected Sri Lanka and Indonesia received most of the damage. In Sri Lanka almost 36,000 people were reported killed or missing out of a population of 19.5 million. Other nations on the Indian Ocean rim saw most damage confined to one geographical area, but 70% of Sri Lanka's 830-mile coastline was battered by the killer wave.

The number of the dead and missing is now estimated at 232,000. And while this includes victims from a dozen nations, more than two-thirds - some 169,000 - came from a single place, the Indonesian province of Aceh. And of Aceh's mortal toll, more than half - some 90,000 - came from a single city, Banda Aceh, and its immediate surroundings. A mere 155 miles from the earthquake's epicenter, Banda Aceh was swamped by the tsunami within 30 minutes of the tremor.

I was privileged to visit Sri Lanka together with my colleague Vince Isner of about 10 days after the tsunami struck and Indonesia about a week later, and again about 3 months later. My reflections on this devastation and its implications for interfaith relations will follow in the days to come.


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