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Remembering the 2004 Tsunami: How residents in Indonesia are coping 12 years on

Reporter: Silkina Ahluwalia 丨 CCTV.com

12-12-2016 10:35 BJT

December 26 marks the day when a magnitude 9.2 undersea quake killed nearly 300,000 people across several countries, including Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. 

Twelve years after the deadliest tsunami in history, residents in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, are still putting the pieces of their lives together. It is the closest major city to the earthquake’s epicenter and suffered great damage from the ensuing tsunami. 

Gaya will never forget the morning of December 26, 2004. This was home for her family, until 12 years ago, when a 9.2 magnitude earthquake suddenly swept away her entire life.

The Indian Ocean tsunami swallowed Banda Aceh within minutes. It was named the deadliest in history, killing more than 170,000 people in Aceh alone.

“I lost my sister in the tragedy. She was only 15 years old at the time. We never found her body, only the remnants of the motorcycle she rode that day,” said Gaya.

More than a decade later, the place she used to call home is now a national site. It froze the moment when a ship was forcefully washed inland, leaving hundreds of homes wrecked.

Gaya said, “This ship stopped here at the right time, it saved 59 people including myself. We took refuge here for hours before mustering the courage to climb back down.” 

Now she works at the Aceh Tsunami Museum, where the display of photographs and artifacts gives her a glimpse of the past, one that ignites a memory of loss and devastation.

Fauzi was at the center of it all. Working for the Indonesian Red Cross Society, he immediately became a huge part of the relief efforts after the quake.

“I have seen many tragedies in my life but nothing compared to the tsunami in 2004. We spent weeks evacuating hundreds of thousands of bodies, dead and alive. I lost many friends that day as well,” said Fauzi Husaini, emergency services coordinator of Indonesian Red Cross Society.

The Indonesian government faced massive challenges in trying to restore more than U.S.$7 billion  worth of infrastructure. But today, Aceh is completely transformed, the result of hard work and multiple contributions from international organizations and donors.

It took nearly 10 years to reconstruct everything to what it used to be and even though things are restored back to normal, residents say they are still slowly rebuilding their lives day by day.

Those days are sometimes difficult for Gaya. The same fear she felt 12 years ago was triggered once again as the ground rumbled furiously during Wednesday’s quake.

“I cannot begin to say how afraid I was. I cannot imagine going through a similar experience again,” said Gaya.

But she remains optimistic. Today, she looks on to these clear and calm waters at the exact spot where a 30-meter wave drowned out an entire city, hoping history will never repeat itself again.

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