Pacific Tsunami

Survivors of 2004 tsunami shaken by Japan disaster

Updated: 2011-03-14 09:23
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BANDA ACEH - Tears streamed down Maisara Mucharam's face as she watched aerial shots of the tsunami pummeling Japan's coast and remembered the day, six years ago, when her youngest daughter was ripped out of her arms by the heavy salty sea.

Survivors of the 2004 tsunami that started off Indonesia sat glued to their TV sets, stroking each other's hands, as images of last Friday's disaster in northern Japan flashed repeatedly across the screen.

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"I heard someone screaming and ran to see what was going on," said Mucharam, who also lost her husband and two other daughters.

"I tried, but couldn't stop watching," the 38-year-old said, her voice trembling. "It was exactly the same, except they have this horrible footage, events unfolding right before your eyes."

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck on the morning of December 26, 2004, spawned a tsunami that smashed into coastal communities, beach resorts and towns in 12 nations, killing more than 230,000 people.

Two-thirds of them died here in Indonesia's remote Aceh province, and it took days for images to emerge. Even then, most showed the aftermath: crumpled buildings, flattened landscapes and row upon row of swollen corpses.

"Unbelievable," whispered 39-year old Cut Chalidah, who lost a son and nine other family members, as she watched the 23-foot (7-meter) high wall of water wash over Japan's coast, rolling up everything in its path. "So this is what it looked like."

She sat silent as the television showed cars, ships and even buildings lifted up and carried inland, tossed about in the debris-strewn water like floating toys in a running bath.

The images left 13-year-old Zaki Ramadhan, orphaned in the 2004 disaster, struggling to breathe.

"My chest was tight, I couldn't feel my legs," said the boy, now being raised by his grandparents. "All I could think of was my mom and dad, my sisters. ... They disappeared under water, just like that."

In Sri Lanka and Thailand, both also hit by the 2004 tsunami, some survivors said the pictures brought back tears and nightmares that had all but stopped.

"It's exactly like what happened in my village," Tharmalingam Komila, who lives in Sri Lanka's coastal village of Passikudah, said as she watched the rescue operations in Japan on TV.

"I was dragged away by the wave into the sea," said the 29-year-old, who lost more than two dozen relatives. "I was holding onto a big plastic jar and a log for five hours before people in an army helicopter saw me and saved me."