Nearly 130,000 people were killed in Indonesia's Aceh province when the 2004 tsunami struck - the largest death toll in any single area. In the early morning hours of December 26, 2004, a magnitude 9.1 quake off the coast of Indonesia's Aceh province triggered one of the worst natural disasters on record, killing more than 220,000 people across a dozen countries. The province of Aceh, located at the northern end of Sumatra was the first hit, with waves of up to 35 meters, killing tens of thousands and causing massive devastation. Kira Kay, Executive Director of the Bureau for International Reporting (BIR), visited the region shortly after the tsunami and ten years later.
But to see the landscape I had filmed in 2002, so thoroughly altered by the tsunami, was shocking. Around 130,000 people in the Aceh Province were dead and about 30,000 more were still missing. But even in those dark days, even if it wasn't clear then what next steps were going to be, the determination of the Acehnese people, sculpted by decades of surviving a civil war, was loud and clear: they would rebuild and start life again.
The Indonesian province of Aceh, located at the northern end of Sumatra, was the hardest hit by the tsunami. The Indian Ocean tsunami also prompted an unprecedented humanitarian response and an international relief effort. The province of Aceh was the first hit by the tsunami, with waves of up to 35 meters, killing tens of thousands and leaving behind a path of destruction. Since the disaster, Aceh has become more religiously observant, as many people saw the tsunami as God's punishment for their immorality, evidenced by the fact that many mosques remained standing. A massive undersea earthquake off Sumatra on December 26, 2004 - known as the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake - triggered the Indian Ocean tsunami.
The outpouring of international aid helped residents rebuild their community stronger than before the disaster. Aceh was always more conservative than other parts of Indonesia - in fact the nickname for Aceh is "the Porch of Mecca" as it is at the tip of the country facing Saudi Arabia. I returned to Aceh this summer and it was hard to recognize a lot of Banda Aceh, and its immediate neighborhoods that were so badly hit. Many Acehnese have rebuilt near the sea where they used to live, because they say their economic livelihood is there – fishing and rice farming in particular – and because it is their ancestral land.
Aceh was always more conservative than other parts of Indonesia, in fact the nickname for Aceh is "the Porch of Mecca" as it is at the tip of the country facing Saudi Arabia: But in recent years, there has been an increased implementation of the region's special Shariah laws, including rules governing the clothing of women and moral behaviors generally.
An Indonesian family separated for a decade by the 2004 tsunami say they now want to find their son. The gratitude of the Acehnese is palpable: the downtown park has been turned into a "Monument of Thanks" with each of the 53 responding countries acknowledged by individual markers. More interestingly, the presence of the large international community had an unintended positive side effect: this opening to the world in part helped end Aceh's civil war, by flooding this once-restricted region with outsiders and ensuring that a fragile peace agreement, signed just months after the tsunami, would hold. The tsunami brought a massive, sudden tragedy, but it simultaneously ended what had been a long, psychologically draining experience of civil war. More than 170,000 Indonesians lost their lives when the country was struck by one of the deadliest natural disasters in world history. The world is marking ten years since the Indian Ocean tsunami, with memorial services being held along the coastline, from Indonesia to Sri Lanka.
The tsunami did not only destroy the entire infrastructure, but also authority and military posts.


Many residents of Aceh believe that God sent the tsunami as punishment for the long-lasting civil war.
Many Acehnese are disillusioned, because corruption continues under the new leadership as well. The sun rises in the town of Ipoih on the island of Pulah Weh in the Aceh province of Indonesia.
Water streams down the cave-like walls of the Tsunami Museum, which serves as both a memorial and evacuation site, with a knoll on high ground offering refuge in case another tsunami strikes. Green trees line the shore on Lumpuuk beach, a few kilometers south of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. The Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, with its 35-metre minaret, pearly white walls and seven majestic black domes, survived the tsunami largely unscathed, with hundreds of locals taking refuge there. This photo shows a diorama depicting the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, after the 2014 tsunami at the Tsunami Museum in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. While all the tsunami sites are sombre reminders of one of the worst natural disasters in modern history, visitors cannot help but feel Aceh’s resilience. Thousands of people held a memorial on Thursday in Indonesia’s Aceh province, the epicenter of the Indian Ocean tsunami, as the world prepared to mark a decade since a disaster that took 220,00 lives and laid waste to coastal areas in 14 countries. In Indonesia’s province of Aceh, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla led tributes to the dead at the Siron mass grave. Muslim clerics, tsunami survivors and rescue workers led around 7,000 mourners gathered at Banda Aceh’s black-domed Baiturrahman Grand Mosque for memorial prayers late Thursday. Malaysian cleric Syeikh Ismail Kassim said he and several hundred compatriots attended to show support for Aceh.
Aceh governor Zaini Abdullah thanked Indonesians and the international community in his address at the mosque, one of the few buildings which withstood the wrath of the massive earthquake and ensuing waves which left 170,000 people in the country dead or missing. Kamaruddin, a fisherman who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said he attended the prayers to remember his wife and three children who died in the tsunami. Many of the tsunami’s victims died in dark, churning waters laden with uprooted trees, boats, cars and eviscerated beach bungalows, as the waves surged miles inland and then retreated, sucking many more into the sea. As the scale of the tragedy emerged, disaster-stricken nations struggled to mobilise a relief effort, leaving bloated bodies to pile up under the tropical sun or in makeshift morgues.
This entry was posted in International Cooperation, Politics, Sumatra and tagged Sumatra pays tribute to tsunami victims, tsunami anniversary remembered in Indonesia. With almost 170,000 casualties, the Indonesian archipelago bore the brunt of the tsunami, followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The Indian Ocean tsunami also prompted an unprecedented humanitarian response and an international relief and reconstruction effort. In a DW interview, the award-winning journalist talks about how the disaster not only led to a massive reconstruction effort, but also to some unintended positive effects such as bringing about an end to Aceh's civil war. I covered the little-known but very deadly civil war in 2002, at a time when the Indonesian military was pushing hard against the Acehnese pro-independence rebels.
This picture shows people displaced by the tsunami, walking amid their ruined neighborhood just days after the disaster. As seen in this January 2005 picture, the houses surrounding this partly damaged mosque in the Lampuuk coastal district of Banda Aceh were wiped out by the massive waves. The tsunami also sparked peace talks that led to a deal in 2005 between separatist rebels and the central government, ending a three-decade long war that claimed thousands of lives.


There is a sense that while the civil war was "man-made," the tsunami was "God-made," and is therefore easier to accept in some ways. There is also a very impressive museum dedicated to the tsunami – a fascinating experience but one that is not just for tourists; in fact when I visited, it was filled with Acehnese themselves. I think the international response made Acehnese realize they weren't as isolated a region as they thought they were, giving them a reason to commit to peace. The national Syiah Kuala University, based in Banda Aceh, houses the Tsunami and Disaster Mitigation Research Center, which oversees the program. There are special autonomy laws that Aceh now has, for example reaping a greater share of natural resource revenue and the implementation of Shariah law, referenced above, that has quelled a lot of the separatist feelings in the area.
On Dec 26th, 2004, some 230 thousand people died when an underwater earthquake triggered huge tsunami waves that slammed into a dozen countries, sweeping away entire communities. Although this area was devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, it offers a tranquil retreat for tourists today. The landmark survived the 2004 tsunami relatively unscathed and many locals believe this was a sign from Allah.
The main memorials were planned for Friday morning, starting in Aceh which was hit first by the waves, then moving to Thailand where candlelit ceremonies are expected in the resort hubs of Phuket and Khao Lak.
Almost US$7 billion in aid went into rebuilding more than 140,000 houses across Aceh, thousands of kilometres of roads, and new schools and hospitals. But the disaster also ended a decades-long separatist conflict, with a peace deal between rebels and Jakarta struck less than a year later.
This picture taken on January 8, 2005 shows the devastation caused by the tsunami in the provincial capital Banda Aceh.
In fact, Aceh has become more religiously observant since the tsunami, as many people saw the tsunami as God's punishment for their immorality, evidenced by the fact that many mosques remained standing even as villages around them were wiped out. The museum is part exhibit and part learning experience, with a whole section about the science behind the tsunami and the earthquake that caused it. There are now tsunami siren towers placed around Banda Aceh, which sound when beacons out at sea register an earthquake seven or higher on the magnitude scale.
Exhibits explain how the community worked together to rebuild, and how the once-embattled province even found ways to make peace after the disaster, with rebels in a long and bloody separatist fight signing a deal with the central government. Kalla thanked local volunteers and the outside world for helping Aceh recover from the tragedy.
It also prompted the establishment of a pan-ocean tsunami warning system, made up of sea gauges and buoys, while individual countries have invested heavily in disaster preparedness. Some trauma is evident; when large twin earthquakes hit Aceh a couple of years ago, a lot of people panicked and were paralyzed in their response. This summer I was glad to reconnect with friends I had made during the war and then also during the tsunami recovery, and they unanimously expressed their lives as feeling "normal" for the first time in their memory. 325 aid organisations streamed into the previously isolated region, in which a bloody civil war between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and Indonesian military had been taking place for almost 30 years. At the time of the disaster, the province lay under martial law, foreigners rarely had access and there were almost no civil organisations.



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