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Acehnese Pray for Dead on First Year Anniversary of Tsunami Disaster


Prayers rang out across Indonesia's Aceh Province to commemorate the first anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that left at least 169,000 Acehnese dead and half-a-million homeless.

While Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono led survivors, dignitaries, and aid workers in prayer for those who lost their lives in the tsunami, verses from the Koran are sung out.

A little Acehnese boy, who was orphaned by the tsunami, sings a haunting song about loss at the ceremony on the shoreline of Banda Aceh, where the tsunami struck. Many people wept, including survivors, government officials, and aid workers.

As sirens rang out at the exact moment the disaster struck a year ago, Mr. Yudhoyono asked for a moment of silence for all those who perished in the disaster.

"Let us now bow our heads in silence to pray for the souls of hundreds-of-thousands, who lost their lives as a result of the tsunami on December 26, last year. May they rest in peace by God's side," he said.

All across Aceh on Monday, survivors offered prayers for those who died in the earthquake and tsunami that struck 12 Indian Ocean nations, killing at least 230,000 people.

Aceh was the worst hit, first by the massive 9.1 magnitude quake, and then by the tsunami's waves. Much of the region's road system and infrastructure was destroyed. Yet, life has gone on here.

The United Nations says a staggering $13.6 billion have been pledged to help the countries hit by the tsunami to rebuild, with 75 percent of that already secured. At least $6 billion money of that has been earmarked for Aceh.

While the reconstruction of Aceh is well under way, hundreds-of-thousands of Acehnese remain homeless. At least 70,000 live in miserable conditions in tents, while 80,000 others live in crowded barracks. The rest, about 300,000, live with relatives and friends.

As the U.N.'s special envoy for tsunami recovery, former President Bill Clinton acknowledges in a taped video speech to the Acehnese people that much remains to be done.

"I know many of you still are bearing great hardships. But despite your hardship and grief, you've been extraordinarily resilient," he said. "I want you to know that I won't be satisfied, until you have decent homes and job opportunities, so that your children can grow up with a renewed sense of security. I will stay the course and work with you to sustain the promise of a brighter future."

Mr. Yudhoyono says the reconstruction efforts in Aceh are far from over.

"We have to provide new homes for the hundreds-of-thousands of homeless," he said. "We need to stimulate the economy and provide jobs. We need to meet the needs of not just the cities, but the outlying villages, too."

Despite pledges of continued help, many Acehnese remain skeptical after a year of unbelievable hardship and sorrow. And they say that no amount of aid will ease their grief for lost homes and loved ones.

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