On December 26 2004, a devastating earthquake with magnitude of 9.3, the second biggest ever recorded in history, hit at 30km of depth in the waters of the Indian Ocean, very close the shores of the city of Banda Aceh, located in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The earthquake hit hard at 7:30 am local time, causing very serious damage and numerous fatalities. Survivors were trying to rescue those trapped under the collapsed buildings, but that was just the beginning. The worst came 30 minutes after, in the form of a 30m tall tsunami that totally wiped out the city of Banda Aceh. Back then, in 2004, people were not educated of what might happen after an earthquake, and alarm systems of evacuation in case of tsunami hadn´t been developed back then, so people were unaware of the possibility of this happening. This huge wave had no mercy with anyone that came across its path, because at this magnitude, and running at a speed of 100 km/h, there is no way you can escape, and once you see the wave coming, is already too late. We are not talking about several hundreds of deaths spread along a wide territory, we are talking about hundreds of entire families with all their members, parents, children, older people, all of them wiped out of the map in a matter of minutes. Banda Aceh, with a population of 240.000 people, lost 70.000 of their inhabitants that morning after Christmas in 2004.
I remember when this happened, I was only 11 years old, but I remember watching the news every day to see how the situation would go day by day. My mom donated money to an NGO to help the survivors, and I remember personally donating 20 euros. I would never imagine that 15 years later I would visit that place and make real friendships with people that have suffered this first hand, and heard the testimonies of many other people that I met along the way. It is hard when you see it on TV, but it is even harder to imagine when you are at the place and you meet the people that were just like those who died in the disaster, because they are truly very humble, welcoming and smiley people.
My friend Erik, who saw the tsunami with his own eyes, recommended me to meet his friend Heri, from Banda Aceh, who took me to this place where I snapped these photos with my drone. This was a boat that was transported by the water a few km inland, and which is forgotten by the government, so you just have local children playing on it. Such a mixture of joy and happiness with such a sad memory. Everything you see in these photos was rebuilt after the tsunami, since everything was completely destroyed and most of the people living back then on these grounds died in this tragedy, so the new inhabitants are mostly relatives that inherited the land and built new homes or inhabitants back then that happened to be somewhere else.
Hearing the testimony of Heri gave me goose bumps all over my body. He was celebrating Christmas at Erik´s Green House, my friend´s business, where I stayed for 8 days, in the paradisiac Island of Weh, located a few km from the Banda Aceh, when the tsunami hit. The wave was not as big there, and they were located on a hill, so it did not reach them. Since it is a pretty hilly mountain, most people could seek safety on higher ground. Four hours after the tsunami, Heri, with a few other people, went on a fishing boat to look for their families in Banda Aceh. They found nothing but destruction, dozens of corps floating on the water, some of them without heads, arms, legs, lots of children. Heri lost that day 17 relatives, some of them never found.