The day after Christmas, disaster struck in South Asia. But like so many catastrophes, the devastating earthquake and tsunami affected myriad more lives than happened to be at the seashore on that day. Family and friends who lost loved ones were left to mourn; people who had once visited that region of the world thought, "What if?"; those who live in the ravaged areas thought, "What now?"
Now that the initial shock has faded and the miraculously impossible stories of survival are painfully few, it is time to end this daily blog. But the inspiring stories of unlikely alliances, the power and generosity of the human spirit, and tireless work to relieve the suffering will go on. Newly aware of the fragility of human life and the earth we inhabit, who can say how much goodness the aftermath of this disaster may yet bring out in us?
Saying Thank You
In Indonesia, anti-government rebels are part of life, but in the wake of the tsunami, rebel leaders are joining the chorus of praise for international relief efforts. The rebels' message to foreign aid workers is "You are welcome, and we will not hurt you." A spokesman for the Free Aceh Movement, a separatist army, told a New York Times reporter, "I am very grateful and thank the Americans and the rest of the world that when they saw this disaster they worked directly to help." He said that rebels would not attack government troops as long as the relief effort was operating. (Note: Free registration is required to view this article.)
Refilling the Pot
Thursday, a $3-500 tsunami relief donation that had been collected at the John P. Holland Elementary School in Boston was stolen. By Friday mid-morning, though, families and area residents had responded with upwards of $3000 in pledges to the fund. One donation of $1000 came from a local insurance company. "It absolutely has restored my faith in humanity," said principal Michele O'Connell. "Yesterday, I was about low as you can go."
Teaching Themselves to Fish
Weary of waiting for over-worked government crews to come and help them repair and rebuild their fishing vessels, more than 70 men from a tsunami-wracked Indian fishing village have joined forces to do the work themselves. In what news agencies are calling a "rare show of community spirit," the men worked together to move and repair storm-tossed vessels.
Pushing the (Web) Buttons
Jovan Trajceski, a web designer, has developed a free set of buttons that he wants people to post on their websites and link to charitable organizations that donate to the tsunami relief effort. "I felt that I have to do more beyond the financial, clothing, or food donation," he writes, adding that he hopes that having clear places to click from all sorts of websites will result in more money to help those in need.
Life Starter Kits
The charitable organization Save a Family is looking beyond meeting the immediate needs of the thousands of lives devastated by the tsunami. The group is starting to distribute "Life Starter Kits" that include a thatched roof hut, cooking utensils, bedding, children's books, and other necessities.
Giving Something Back
Surfers yearn for enormous waves, but the events of the Asian tsunami have given California surfers pause. A group of them have launched a major fund-raising effort to contribute money to the shoreline areas of Thailand and Indonesia, where many of them have traveled and surfed in the past. Through the organization SurfAid International, the group has raised over $500,000.
A Generous Spirit
Buddhists in British Columbia have sold their temple in order to donate more money to the tsunami relief effort in Asia. The Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation's temple in Mission, which is near Vancouver, donated $405,000 to the Canadian Red Cross, the entire proceeds from the sale of the building.
A staggering two weeks after being swept out to sea by the tsunami on Dec. 26, an Indonesian man was rescued from choppy ocean waters Monday. Ari Afrizal, 22, was brought to Malaysia by a United Arab Emirates-registered ship. His home and town destroyed, he will remain in Malaysia after he recovers to work and begin to rebuild his life.
Back to School
Amid the devastation of the tsunami, keeping schools open seems at first glance like a pretty low priority. But in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, classes are meeting again as a way of bringing back a sense of normalcy for children who have been traumatized by the natural disaster. With teachers and children among the dead, school officials are often having children recite verses from the Qur'an for comfort and stability. "Today we're just teaching them how to pray in these difficult times," said an Indonesian principal in the hard-hit Aceh province.
Tax Relief for Tsunami Relief
Congress, pleased with the high number of people who are contributing to the tsunami relief effort and hoping to encourage others to give, has voted to extend the deadline for deducting charitable donations. Under the bill, which passed January 6 and is expected to be signed by President Bush imminently, people who donate to tsunami relief charities before January 31 will be able to deduct their donation from their 2004 taxes. Otherwise, people would have to wait until they file their 2005 tax returns to get the deduction.
A Father's Miracle
The Associated Press chronicles several stories of seemingly miraculous tsunami survival in this article. The stories include that of a fisherman whose children were torn from his grip by the wave. Hours later, they were discovered to be alive, washed ashore. "Nobody can explain how my children survived," he said. "I am still wondering why God chose to save my children when he chose to let so many other children die."
Update: Dolphin Rescued
A rare dolphin that was trapped by the tsunami in a small Thai lagoon has been freed. The adult female dolphin was successfully pulled out of the lagoon and transferred into the sea, which lay a full kilometer away. The calf that was also trapped remains missing in the lagoon. For many in the devastated region, the dolphins have become symbols of hope and survival.
Update: Life Finds a Way
The Indonesian woman we previously reported had been rescued after clinging to a sago palm tree is expecting a baby, CNN is reporting. The 24-year-old Malawati, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, was afraid that she had lost her unborn child during her harrowing experience, but doctors were surprised and thrilled to tell her that she is still carrying a healthy child and that she will give birth in five to six months.
Moments of Silence
Across Europe today, church bells rang as people paused from their lives to recall the victims of the tsunami in 3 minutes of silence. London's busy Heathrow Airport suspended flights for the brief period, which took place at noon. In Frankfurt, Germany, stock traders turned their backs to the trading screens and paused for reflection, prayer, or simple solidarity.
The blog India Uncut chronicles a unique partnership between Hindus and Muslims in the wake of the tsunami:
"A deep bond had been formed between the villagers, who were all Hindus, and these Muslim men who rushed to help their neighbours because they believed that to be the way of their religion. Anybody who does not believe that Islam can be moderate is invited to go to Tamil Nadu and check out the work they are doing."
Hugs and More
Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, who is known as the "hugging saint" for the some 30 million hugs she has bestowed as blessings over the past 30 years, has pledged a sizable donation of more than $23 million for tsunami relief efforts. The leader, who is also known in India as "Amma," or "Mother," announced that the money will be used to build houses for those who have been left homeless, as well as provide basic household items for the affected families. The tsunami's water flooded Amma's ashram, or the building where she prays and works, but no one was hurt.
Head Above Water
Lokesh Pillai, on an annual Christian pilgrimage to the South Indian shore when the tsunami struck, did not know how to swim. Yet after a harrowing moment in which his leg was fractured by the wave, he clung to a bamboo branch and survived four hours in the water. Washing up on a remote jungle shore 2 kilometers from where he entered the water, Pillai was rescued by a boy who carried him on his back to his village. The boy's sister then took Pillai to a hospital for treatment.
A Mother's Love
When everyone else was running, panicked, away from the roaring waves, one Swedish woman was running straight into them to save her husband, brother, and three sons. Photographed as she sprinted into the tide, newspapers reported that no one knew whether Karin Svaerd or her family had survived. The BBC is now reporting that the entire family did survive, reuniting minutes after the wave carried them to higher ground. "We came so close to death that we realise how valuable life is," Svaerd said.
Saved by a "Sixth Sense"
Even though the tsunami's waves ran 2 miles inland into Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, not a single one of the park's hundreds of elephants or leopards was killed, park officials report. Zoologists are investigating the possibility that the animals have a "sixth sense" that alerted them to the impending danger and urged them to higher ground. The animal instinct has been long suspected but never scientifically proven, though ancient cultures in the region revered elephants as sacred animals with special powers.
A Tree of Life
Clinging to an uprooted sago palm tree, an Indonesian woman was found alive after five days adrift following the tsunami. The 23-year-old woman suffered from weakness and leg injuries, but was conscious when a Malaysian fishing boat rescued her Friday.
A Pet's Devotion
A 7-year-old boy was saved from the tsunami's force by the family dog, who pulled the boy up a hill and out of the small hut where he had taken shelter. The boy's mother had fled with her two younger children, hoping against hope that her older boy would be strong enough to outrun the wave on his own. When the boy ran into the hut, the dog, which is named Selvakumar after the boy's uncle, nudged him back outside and up a nearby hill.
A Floating Miracle
In a seemingly impossible discovery, a 20-day-old baby girl was found, crying, floating on a mattress near her parents' restaurant in northern Malaysia. "Thank God the mattress was floating in about five-foot deep water and my baby was crying," the baby's father, A Suppiah, told the national news agency Bernama.
Saving the Sea Creatures
Rescuers are working off the coast of Thailand to save two rare dolphins who became trapped in a small lagoon after the tsunami hit Dec. 26. The dolphins were discovered by a man who was searching for his missing wife, and Greek, Dutch, and Thai workers have been working together to try to save the animals.
A meeting meant to demand funds for an economically depressed village in Meghalaya, India quickly turned into an effort to aid those Indians who were affected by the tsunami. In what New Dheli media is calling "a rare and generous gesture," local villagers spontaneously decided to shift the focus away from their town, which is cash-strapped but was not affected by the tsunami's devastation. The money will go to the town of Kyndiah, which is located near the Bangladesh-India border and which is populated by members of the tribe that also lives in Meghalaya.