Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
This is the title of MetroTV's ongoing coverage of the disaster. It means Indonesia is crying.

As horrible as this disaster has been, encircling the entire Indian Ocean, it looks to me as it will turn out to be Indonesia which ends up with the greatest number of fatalities, when all areas have been reached. Until about 6:00 pm tonight, the constant report had been that Banda Aceh is the hardest hit area, with about 3,000 dead in the city. Only occasionally during today's coverage, did the newsreaders remind us that there has still been no communications with West Aceh -- usually neglecting even to mention South Aceh, which has a longer coast. Together, these two regencies' coastlines are closest to the source of the quake, and there has been practically no word at all from this area.

Until tonight's dinner hour news with SCTV's Liputan Petang. Very poor quality video taken at Meulaboh city by a TNI battalion stationed there, their camera obviously damaged and barely functioning. By the way, close to 400 TNI personel have already been confirmed dead, and a police asrama (residential facility) was completely swept away in Banda Aceh with all officers thought to be lost. The "Raiders Battalion" video showed the almost total destruction of Meulaboh, a fairly large port city in West Aceh regency. It was said that about 80% of the city is gone and that Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who flew around the coastline today, estimated that 10,000 may have died in Meulaboh alone. Shortly after this first set of images from the west coast, MetroTV broadcast aerial footage of Meulaboh. It's really difficult to imagine such a complete destruction -- only here and there is a house still standing amid the uniform layer of debris.

From South Aceh and its regency capital Tapaktuan, I still have no information. There is a very large number of people right now, for whose fate Agam is extremely worried. The young family that my friend and brother Uddin left behind, when he was abducted and killed five years ago. Our beloved Ibu Ramyas and Bapak Aziz, brother Hary with his wife and children, brother Hamdani and his young family, and all the neighbours and friends living in Kampung Hilir (a part of Tapaktuan between the main town and the mountain -- a mountain that I'm praying hard will be a life-saving mountain). All our family live close together here, except for Uddin's widow and children who are in a town some distance further south, Batu Hitam. Along this section of the coast, the mountains are close to the beach which is slightly apparent with this massively reduced map.

That's the whole of Aceh on top, with the just the edge of adjoining North Sumatra province shown as white colour. The quake was centred just north of Simeulue Island, the location marked 1 on the detail section. Tapaktuan is 2, Meulaboh is 3, and Banda Aceh is 4 on top section. Actually just below the 4 is Banda Aceh, and just above it is the Port of Sabang, on Weh Island. Sabang was at one time the major port in this region, much bigger and busier than Singapore.

It's sort of apparent on the lower map, that the mountainous terrain running through the central region, comes right up to the coast around Tapaktuan. That's what makes the area so amazingly beautiful -- wonderful little bays and beaches next to mountains full of spectacular caves and waterfalls, and covered (mostly) with their original forests and resident wildlife. Ah yes, the mountains, the wonderful life-saving mountains. I'm counting on you.

In the highest part of the centre of the province, is Takengon. I read one local account where some people in Takengon told of their feeling the strong quake right at 8:00 am sharp on Sunday morning (same time zone as Bangkok), or 01:00 GMT. The shaking was strong, and sustained constantly for five full minutes. Some guy yesterday on the phone from Banda Aceh said he thought the quake had gone on for ten minutes. I saw some video this afternoon showing the quake damage in Banda Aceh before the tsunami actually arrived. This immediately knocked out most telecommunications links with the rest of the province. Until late afternoon today, all reports of the disaster have been from Banda Aceh, Lhokseumawe on the eastern part of the coast, Biruen and Pidie regencies in between them, and other places all on the sheltered side of the island. The most amazing thing I heard today is that Simeulue Island -- the closest bit of land to the epicentre -- suffered only light damage, and only one metre high waves. Maybe I can squeeze a little more hope out of that piece of information. It's very hard that now, almost three days after the fact, there is still no word from the place Agam left his heart for the first time almost 15 years ago.

Besides the usual major news sources, and the Asia news links on the sidebar, Laksamana Net has some local news reports from Aceh in English language. Here is the US Geological Survey page for the "great quake" itself. Another USGS page shows this specific area with all recent quakes, but take a look just north of there, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A lot of quakes out there packed close together, and here's the list.

Thailand today doubled the earlier estimated death toll from Phuket, Pha Nga, Krabi and other parts of the west coast, to more than 830 (and it may well double again). I'm sure many have by now seen some of the amateur videos I mentioned yesterday, after the international media got them. But a lot of what MetroTV is showing today is too awful, I think, for CNN and the like to show.

We finally heard something from West Aceh tonight, and it wasn't good. I hope I'll have some information from South Aceh tomorrow, and that the news will be better. No. That the news will be miraculous. That would be very good. Miraculous mountains save lives of thousands of South Aceh people, yeah that would do just fine. I'll be calling number one son in Jakarta tomorrow, to see if he knows anything more.

UPDATE: The overall death toll closes in on 60,000, with Indonesia confirming more than 27,000 dead. Thailand confirms more than double what I wrote earlier, over 1500 dead with 1200 still missing. About 700 were foreign guests. Wikipedia has just about everything compiled in one place.

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