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Schools open, sorrows remain month after tsunami
Updated: 2005-01-27 09:16

Indonesian school children wept and prayed for thousands of missing classmates as debris-littered schools reopened in devastated Aceh province on Wednesday, a month after the Asian tsunami.

Hundreds of Sri Lankan mourners dressed in traditional white gathered in Colombo's Independence Square for a silent vigil at the moment the tsunami struck on Dec. 26, leaving nearly 300,000 dead or missing around the Indian Ocean from Somalia to Thailand.

Indian police used loudspeakers to dispel rumors that another tsunami would strike a month to the day after the first giant waves were triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra island.

In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, hundreds of people rallied to demand that foreign troops helping with tsunami relief be allowed to stay longer in Aceh, battered by a 30-year rebellion that has killed more than 12,000 people.

Shattered earth : Indonesian tsunami surviving children arrive at their devatated school in Banda Aceh. [AFP]

Teachers and students hugged and cried together as damaged schools in Aceh province, at the northern tip of Sumatra island, opened their doors. Books and desks dried in the open air.

"I'm glad to be back, but I'm also sad because many of my friends are not here. I don't know where they are," said Aceh schoolgirl Eva Wahyuni, fighting back tears.

At the SMR8 secondary school in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, students sat on a cleared basketball court where they prayed and recited from the Koran. Some girls cried and held their heads in their hands and others stared blankly.

Only 300 of nearly 900 enrolled students turned up for class. Authorities in Aceh say the tsunami killed 45,000 school children and more than 2,300 teachers and administrators.

"For us teachers, it's hard because so many lost families and homes. But we have to put this aside and think of our students," school principal Syarifuddin Ibrahim, 50, told Reuters.

Cries of anguish rose from the crowd as he read out the names of nine teachers killed by the tsunami.


In India's ravaged southern state of Tamil Nadu, coastal villages appeared to have overcome fears of another tsunami. Children played on beaches and relief workers helped fishermen move hundreds of damaged boats.

"I think the tsunami won't come again but I always keep an eye on the sea to ensure that it is normal," said Thankaraj, who sat with a group of fishermen in the shadow of a badly damaged boat at a harbor in Nagapattinam.

Authorities used public address systems, radio and television to ease fears another tsunami would lash the area on Wednesday.

A  man floats an oil lamp in the Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka's southern Unawatuna beach, January 26, 2005 to mark the first month of the tsunami that killed about 38,000 people in the country. [Reuters]

In one of the few formal commemorations for the dead, Sri Lankans gathered in Colombo at 9:36 a.m., the moment the tsunami struck the island.

"It's good that they've organized something like this because those who died, and the others who lost everything, are a part of our Sri Lankan family," said schoolboy Jayathna Weerasena, 17.

But displaced families in the worst-hit areas of Sri Lanka knew nothing of the moment of silence and some people said they were too busy feeding and caring for survivors to pause.

"A minute's silence? No, we are not observing it. There is so much to do," said Buddhist monk Pittugala Sumana, chief priest of the Telwatta temple in southern Sri Lanka.

Thousands across the region still nurse wounds from being tossed in the raging waves. Australian Graham Robert Pattison, recovering from a broken hip and pelvis in a Bangkok hospital, counts his blessings after being flung through a brick wall.

"You see it on TV. You see the thousands that have died. You wonder why you didn't die," said Pattison. "You got away with injuries but you still survived, so yes, it has sunk in. You really don't know how lucky you can be."


The tsunami's destruction opened a historic opportunity to bring peace to Aceh, the oil-rich province troubled for three decades by clashes between the Indonesian military and the separatist Free Aceh Movement.

A high-level Indonesian government team left Jakarta on Wednesday for Helsinki, where mediated talks were scheduled with rebel leaders this weekend.

Hundreds of Acehnese marched in the streets of Jakarta on Wednesday to protest a government timetable for U.S. and other foreign troops to leave the sensitive province by the end of March.

"U.S. army, my family, not out. We love peace," a banner read.

"We demand that the U.N. and other countries that sent military to Aceh stay there until Aceh has completely recovered," protester Faisal Ridha said.

While rebuilding was under way across the Indian Ocean region, hundreds of thousands remain homeless, many living in tent camps where they still face the risk of disease.

But a month on, Banda Aceh school headmaster Amirudin, 52, urged his students to have hope.

"We don't have bags, books and pencils, but that's OK. Everything will come," he said. "Do you see those helicopters flying above, they belong to the Americans and other countries. So you know what it means? Everyone is helping us. And Allah will help us."

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