Mon, Jan 10, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Banda Aceh still `acute situation'

TRAUMATIZED Countless numbers of dead are still missing amid the debris from the disaster, but relief operations are helping the living get back on their feet

AP , Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Two Indonesian refugees walk down a road covered with debris leftover from the tsunami disaster as they return to look for their homes in the west coast town of Leupung, about 30 kms from Banda Aceh, yesterday. Concerns remained yesterday that an unknown number of tsunami survivors in Indonesia's Aceh province have not received any aid, two weeks after the disaster killed more than 104,000 people in the country.

PHOTO: AFP

Two weeks after it was hit by Asia's tsunami, parts of Banda Aceh are showing signs of life: customers haggle at markets overflowing with chilies, squawking chickens and tropical fruits. Barber shops are open, and old men while away the morning sipping coffee and puffing on pungent clove cigarettes in street-side cafes.

But a short drive across this provincial capital and it is a different scene: back hoes drag up bloated corpses from the debris of a residential area and dump them on the sidewalk. Survivors who have lost everything scavenge in the ruins of a shoe shop for something to sell, and plead for money.

The most powerful earthquake in 40 years sent giant waves tearing through this city on Indonesia's Sumatra island on Dec. 26, killing up to 40,000 people and leaving many more homeless and traumatized.

In districts that were spared the wrath of the sea, a semblance of normality has returned. But in the hardest hit areas, the horror remains acute.

"My wife and my son are dead," said one survivor, Hariyanto, as he picked through the debris near where his house once stood. "Even if I find them I will not be able to recognize them."

Teams of volunteers wearing face masks and plastic gloves comb the city collecting bodies and bury them in mass graves, but thousands still remain rotting under the debris of collapsed houses or the tons of wood and trees that lie piled up on the streets. The stench of death is unbearable in many neighborhoods.

Hundreds of makeshift refugee camps dot the city, with survivors subsisting on rice and instant noodles. Naked children play in dirty rivers that run through some of the settlements. There are fears that deadly waterborne diseases like cholera and dysentery could soon spread among the survivors.

Banda Aceh was one of the first places to experience the tsunami before it traveled across kilometers of ocean laying waste to coastal regions in 10 other countries in Asia and Africa. More than 150,000 have been killed, 100,000 of them on Sumatra, which took the full force of the waves.

Many of those killed were taking Sunday morning walks or playing on the beaches on either side of the city when the tsunami hit.

"Look at this, it will take us at least 10 years to recover," said Muktadin, a motorcycle rickshaw driver whose vehicle had got stuck in the thick mud that coats much of the city.

In the first two days after the tsunami, witnesses reported seeing thousands of shocked residents wandering the streets in a daze, and authorities were unable to cope with the scale of the disaster.

All but one of its five hospitals were knocked out, electricity and phone links were cut and looting was widespread.

Aid operations were slow to start amid the chaos, but the relief effort is now in full swing.

Scores of foreign and local aid organizations and military troops are involved in what the UN is calling the largest and most complex emergency relief operation ever.

They say they will be here for at least two years.

"Things are improving, but people will be traumatized for years to come," said Suprizal, who used to work in the city's most upmarket hotel, which collapsed when the quake struck.

"The city is still dead," he added.

Banda Aceh's 17th century Baiturahman Mosque hosted Friday prayers for the first time since the disaster last week.

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