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Tusnami leaves legacy of crushing ruin
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-09 22:33

Editor's note: This report is dedicated to five journalists covering the disaster for their homeland newspapers in five countries struck by the Christmas tsunamis. Each has written exclusively for China Daily .


by Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post/Indonesia

JAKARTA: There is this shout that still keeps ringing in my ears: "Run! The water's coming!"

Sunday morning began hotter than usual -- the sun was really bright at just 7:50 am. At home I was enjoying coffee and reading the local daily Serambi Indonesia. Sunday is when young people head for Ulee Lhee beach, only five kilometers from the town. After swimming they would usually have a picnic on the beach with food brought from home.

Suddenly my newspaper shook in my hands, and the shaking became increasingly stronger. I ran out of the house with my two younger siblings -- along with my neighbours. We cried to God. The quake got stronger and we clutched one another. Water in the gutters shook and spilled over.

A victim's body is trapped in the debris from the devastating tsunamis Saturday, Jan. 8, 2005, on the coastal area of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province in northwest Indonesia. [AP]

The shouts grew louder amid the sound of a tree cracking, ready to crash.

Neighbours hugged one another, some crying. This lasted for several minutes. It left cracked walls and pale faces. No one went into their homes. We live about six kilometers from the beach.

Half an hour later another quake occurred and everyone was hysterical, though it was of a lesser strength. I felt very worried. Quakes are common in Aceh, but not like this.

I wanted to see the situation outside -- and shortly after passed thousands of people shrieking in panic.

'The water is coming!'

People were moving in all sorts of vehicles heading out of town. Everyone was carrying a bundle of clothing or rice. Screams from adults and crying infants filled the air.

I rushed home; there were other, lesser tremors and we remained outside.

I ventured out at 11 am.The whole town, every corner, was in devastating ruin. I learnt later of the wave, the tsunami that must have hit the entire town of Banda Aceh, because there was no water left -- just black, knee-high mud.

In the Lamteumen district near the beach, all homes had been crushed by the wall of water.

There were several bodies lodged between planks of wood inside the houses.

Only then did I realize this was really serious. There were more and more bodies, likely killed in the wave, not the earthquake.

Further away in the nearby area of Peuniti, hundreds of corpses were lined up along the road near the Krueng Aceh river.

It was all chaos

It was chaos. Everyone was in a state of panic. Aceh's capital had been entirely destroyed, with dozens of bodies lying around the front of Baitur Rahman mosque, the town's landmark and the pride of its townspeople.

Fishing boats had suddenly emerged, stranded in the middle of the town brought in by the wave -- while dozens of vehicles were wrecked.

In just a few minutes thousands had lost their families. This must be what Judgment Day looks like, with hysterical screams and thousands of people looking for their loved ones.

I was absolutely sure that these bodies included the youth who would have been playing by the beach. Fishermen, residents living up to at least two kilometers away from the coast, passengers of speedboats heading for the tourist destination of Weh island. All dead. I shivered at the scene.

One survivor said the wall of water coming out of the sea toward him reached up to 25 meters. He said he hugged a pillar of his house. The rest of it was gobbled up by the wave.

He still has his wife, but lost his grandmother.

Another local had escaped with his family in a car, only to get trapped in the giant wave. He lost his wife and two children.

Back home, we spent the night in the dark, in the terror of more tremors and the waves.

More tremors, waves

Once every hour a tremor reoccurred and we ran outside.

The rest has been told. Until now we are always listening, always on the alert.

For we fear we may not save ourselves if we don't hear the signals that we must watch out for.

Nani left Banda Aceh "to seek solace," she told a friend, and then headed for Medan in North Sumatra. Before she tried to track down her media colleagues, asking everyone who knew them, and sent news of who was missing, who was safe and who had lost relatives.

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