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Tsunami Victims Mourned At Vigil

Fort Myer Benefit Raises Relief Funds

By Paul Schwartzman and Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page C01

Dozens of mourners gathered in front of the Indonesian Embassy last night for a candlelight vigil for the victims of the tsunami that devastated South Asia.

In frigid weather, the crowd heard ambassadors representing the affected region and civic leaders express grief for the more than 157,000 people who died and the hope that survivors can rebuild their damaged communities.

After a candlelight vigil at the Indonesian Embassy, messages of support for South Asian tsunami victims are written on a sheet. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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"I don't know if I can lead the life I did before the tragedy happened," Agung Bayu Waluyo, an organizer of the Indonesian Community Association, told the crowd, which filled the sidewalk in front of the embassy, on Massachusetts Avenue NW near Dupont Circle.

"Each of us has our own questions" about why the tsunami occurred, he said, as he appeared to fight back tears. "Maybe we have answers, maybe we don't. But tonight, let's show our sympathy, especially to the thousands of orphans."

The list of speakers appearing on the steps in front of the embassy included Indonesian Ambassador Soemadi D.M. Brotodiningrat and India's ambassador, Ronen Sen, who encouraged the crowd to "focus on our future."

"Let us resolve to bring a flicker of light, a flicker of hope, to those who have survived," he said.

The vigil in the District was one of two events in the region that focused on the tsunami yesterday. At a community center at Fort Myer, a local monthly newspaper for Asian Americans staged a benefit performance for the victims.

Zuhaimi Bakri, whose ancestral village in Aceh province was decimated, was the guest of honor, the somber representative of catastrophe.

As he sat with his daughter, Meutia, at the red-covered head table, dancers and politicians swirled about, and hundreds of volunteers and supporters ate noodles and curry, watched traditional dances and searched for ways to help.

Bakri put his hand to his heart, thankful, he said, for the kindness, yet overwhelmed by the loss.

Weeks before the rush of water destroyed his village of Lambung Ulee Lheu, killing, he believes, all but about 50 of its 2,100 residents, Bakri's wife dreamed that her deceased brother appeared to offer a warning that "our family will be very sad."

Shortly after that dream, Bakri said, one relative was hospitalized for an appendix operation, and three members of the extended family -- including himself -- were in separate car accidents.

"That is the warning sign, but we didn't know anything," Bakri said. "One by one by one."

The tsunami took his mother, Bakri said. Seven aunts on his father's side, and maybe seven on his mother's side, are also gone, as well as husbands and children, he said.

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