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  Aceh Tsunami Two Years Later

Almost everyone living in this region knows about the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami tragedy that destroyed many parts of Aceh in Indonesia as well as the Maldives, Phuket, Phi Phi and other islands in Thailand and of course many parts of Sri Lanka.

How many lives were lost can never be known. Estimates range from 240,000 to more than 300,000. Estimates for Aceh alone range from 140,000 to 240,000.

In terms of total lives lost Aceh was the hardest hit and Banda Aceh most of all the cities of Indonesia. To give you an idea of how big the wave was that hit the shore at Banda Aceh I have borrowed this graphic from Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The small black speck at the bottom is a 6’ tall person. The wave was an average of 60’ when it hit the shore. From damage that was done along the coast it appears it was as high as 80’ in some places and still 45’ high as it raced across inland.

Photo at right shows one village in Aceh a few days later, it might look like a flood but it’s the residue of a 60’ wave (that’s a 6 storey wall of water hitting a low rise area.

This photo is from the US Navy who were on the scene within a day or two of the event.

The Ship in the Kampung

To give a more personal account of how far inland and how powerful the tsunami was when it hit Banda Aceh, I have included two photos I took recently to show how big the wave could have been.

This is of a small ship that is 7 kilometres inland. When we were driving towards it I thought someone had built a factory in the middle of a road and was thinking how inconvenient it would be to have a factory right here and having to drive around it all day.

The ship is perfectly placed between a number of houses, no matter how hard I looked I could not see any other way that this ship came to be where it is other than having been lifted there on a wall of water and dumped right on top of a home or homes. If you did not know better you would think that this was some sort of backyard shipbuilding project that got out of control, but it is not.

Naturally in some perverse way this is now a major attraction for all expats and other Indonesians who visit Banda Aceh. You really do have to see it to believe it.To their credit none of the locals has sought to profit from this extraordinary sight.

Putting the Tsunami in perspective

Images -

But lets put it in perspective. This is one of the greatest natural disasters of modern times, however long that is. The photos to the left here show the identical location before and after the tsunami, there can be no doubt about the level of destruction that occurred here.

This is only a very small area of Banda Aceh itself but there were probably tens of thousands of people living here. And from here you can see the river where a wall of water would have raced up and joined the wall of water that came over the shoreline.

To travel around Banda Aceh today is indeed a strange feeling. You know that horror on an unimaginable scale happened here just over two years ago. You know that hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in the most horrible way and that those who survived will carry the psychological scars with them the rest of their days.

However in a very Indonesian way, the Acehnese have got on with their lives. There is building and commerce.

There are many aid workers from NGOs all over the world. There are contractors, builders, engineers, social workers, helpers and probably a few hinderers, but something is being done and its being done as quickly as possible.

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