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'Monuments' Mark Aceh's Tragedy

The PLTD Apung

Punge Blang Cut, TAG  - Arianto has given up trying to eke out a living from a fish farm. The 20-year-old is doing something more interesting, not to mention meaningful, for a job these days.

Though his English needs improvement, Arianto is a tour guide for foreign and local tourists wanting to visit the PLTD Apung I, a 2,600-ton ship that was washed ashore by the Indian Ocean tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004. It came to rest on a two-lane road in Punge Blang Cut village, just outside the provincial capital Banda Aceh. And there it sits, a monument of sorts to the awesome destructive power wrought by the giant waves.



Taking a break from his job, Arianto recalled the tragedy of five years ago as he saw it. On that Sunday morning, he was working at the fish farm when an 8.9-magnitude earth quake shook Aceh for nine minutes. 



He quickly ran home to his village in Blang Oi, about a kilometer from Ulee Lheue beach in Banda Aceh. After finding his mother and two of his younger siblings, Arianto said, people began panicking and screaming, “The sea is rising! The sea is rising!” 



They tried to run inland, but they didn’t have a chance. The tsunami swept away his village within seconds. The roiling water carried Arianto three kilometers away, before throwing his cut and bruised body onto the second story of a house.

His mother and siblings were not so lucky — they died and their bodies were never found. 

Now Arianto and his father live in Punge Blang Cut in a 36-meter-square house built by the Aceh-Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR). Along with several other young men, he became an unofficial guide at the stranded ship. 



“I can earn enough money to eat. I can receive between Rp 10,000 ($1.05) and Rp 100,000 [a day],” he said. 



Arianto will never forget the tsunami, which scarred both his body and his heart. “I was given a second chance to live,” he said, his eyes seemingly staring into the past.


Hendra, 33, another ship guide, said nine groups of seven local people each now run the tourist attraction. They work in shifts as parking attendants, caretakers and guides. 



“We never set a price. Visitors donate their money voluntarily,” Hendra. “The money is then used for our village’s youth fund, and the salaries of group members. It’s only enough for buying cigarettes and a meal.”



The ship tore apart Hendra’s house when the tsunami tossed it ashore like a toy.
Luckily, none of his family were killed because by the time the water reached their village they had found shelter on the second floor of his neighbor’s house.



On the top
A View From The Top

The PLTD Apung I, a floating diesel power plant, had been docked at the Ulee Lheue Harbor when the tsunami pushed it five kilometers to the east. The vessel, 63 meters long, was owned by state power company PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), and was generating electricity for Banda Aceh. Since the ship was stranded ashore, the power plant never reopened. Banda Aceh remains beset by blackouts. 



From the top of the ship, visitors can see new houses that have been rebuilt as part of the massive reconstruction program led by the BRR. 



After the disaster, the area was in ruins. Houses simply disappeared under tons and tons of debris.

People erected tents near the ship, waiting for aid workers. Now, around the ship there are several shops selling T-shirts and souvenirs. 



On the southern end of the ship stands a tsunami education park, where children play in the afternoons, built with the help of luxury carmaker BMW. 



On weekdays, around 100 people visit the ship, but the current holidays will be a boon, as more than 400 people a day are expected to visit the site.



Another miraculous object from the tsunami is the Rahmatullah Mosque in Aceh Besar district, which survived the disaster mostly in tact despite being near the oceanfront.

The fact that it remained standing while entire residential neighborhoods around it were washed away astonished former US presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, who visited Aceh in February 2005 as special ambassadors. Local resident are convinced that divine intervention saved the mosque. 



Aerial pictures of the site, 30 kilometers south of Banda Aceh, stunned the world. The mosque has since been renovated, but one damaged corner remains as a reminder of the tsunami.



On Lampuuk Beach, pine trees were ripped out by the waves, but now the beach boasts new trees. Each weekend, local residents crowd the beach to swim, surf or enjoy the sea view.



7,000 Residents. 1,000 Lived

Beneath today’s seeming normality, the tsunami will be a source of lifelong grief for Lampuuk. Out of 7,000 residents in five beachside villages, only 1,000 survived. 



Khairiah, 43, is one of them. A teacher at Lampuuk’s Islamic Elementary School, she was flushed two kilometers inland by the wave. Her husband and two children also survived. 



Despite her good fortune, the tragedy left its traumatic mark. Her parents and several family members were never found. 
“When I drifted away, all I could see was the dome and tower of the mosque,” she recalled. 



Khairiah went back to teaching. Her school was rebuilt by Islamic Relief, a British-based aid group, but only 55 of its 300 students came back when classes resumed. Only two of the school’s 14 teachers survived. There are now 16 teachers on staff.



Ikra Afila, 10, a 5th grade student, lost her mother, a 2-year-old sister and her grandparents in the tsunami. Only she and her father are left. She survived after slipping from her grandfather’s embrace during the flood. She can still muster a smile, although her eyes, like those of her teacher Khairiah, seem empty.

Another child, Afila, who was only 5-years old when the disaster struck, was found in a hilly village nearby. Her body was covered with mud. Local villagers bathed her and placed her in a meunasah, a small mosque, for safety. 



“I met my father again in the afternoon,” Afila said, adding that she wants to be a teacher someday.



Khairiah and Afila both cannot get over that awful day. When they hear strong winds blowing in from the ocean, they instinctively panic. When an earthquake occurs, all of Lampuuk village’s residents automatically flee to higher ground.

“Actually, I want to move from here, but to where?” Khairiah said. “We were born and raised here, so we’ll stay here. Hopefully, no disaster will come our way again.”



The Turkish government built around 1,000 houses for survivors in Lampuuk. They appear to be the biggest and best-built houses from the reconstruction effort, but dozens remain unoccupied. 



“When the project was started, even a child whose parents died was still given a house by Turkey,” explained Muhammad Ali, a local resident. “Now, they live with relatives. But when they grow up, they will occupy these houses.” 



A miracle
‘I thought it was Armageddon’ 



In Lampulo village, in Banda Aceh’s Kuta Alam sub-district, three kilometers away from the coast, a 30-meter-long fishing boat remains stuck on the roof of a house — another monument to disaster. A plaque below the boat states that the 59 people who sought shelter aboard it that day survived. 



Among them are Syamsuddin, 65, and Basyariah, 60, and their son Mujiburrijal, 30. The family still lives in the house next to the boat, which cushioned it from the force of the water. 



When the tsunami struck their village, the family and 22 of their neighbors climbed up to the second story of their house. Amazingly, the drifting boat landed on the roof, and all 25 people climbed into the boat. Another 34 people soon followed, climbing up to the roofs of their houses and then into the vessel. Dozens of others who tried to run further inland were never seen again.



“From the boat, we could see houses and other buildings leveled by the tsunami, which came in three waves. We could only pray to Allah to be saved from this massive calamity. We even made apologies to each other as we thought it was the end of the world,” Syamsuddin said. 



“I thought it was Armageddon. The boat was sent by angels to pick us up. When we decided to set sail to save others, I realized that there was no one left to save, and everyone on the boat knew each other.”



Among the survivors was a 3-month-old baby, several children and an 85-year-old woman. After several hours, Basyariah recalled, they were struck by hunger. But another miracle awaited them, as a cluster of green coconuts drifted by.



Today, local children play in the boat; Visitors stop by to climb aboard and see the view of the distant Lampulo fish market. 



Basyariah proudly displays a clock that was stopped at 8:45 a.m., fifteen minutes after the first tsunami wave struck Aceh’s coastline. 



“The clock was still attached to the wall,” she said. “The hands were stopped by the sea water that flooded our house.”



She said some visitors wanted to buy the clock for a hefty price, but the family declined. 


“This dead clock is a message for us that we cannot forget,” Syamsuddin added.[]
'Monuments' Mark Aceh's Tragedy 'Monuments' Mark Aceh's Tragedy Reviewed by Nurdin Hasan on December 27, 2009 Rating: 5

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