Agam's Gecko
Saturday, January 08, 2005
About 3:30 this afternoon, the phone finally connected with our neighbour's house (Ibu and Bapak don't have a phone) in Kampung Hilir, Tapaktuan. There was only one of his children at home -- her father, a retired policeman, was back to work. Ibu and Bapak had moved to stay with brother Dani, so I didn't get to speak with them either. But there is some very encouraging news for Aceh Selatan (South Aceh). Pak Baktiar's daughter told me that there were no casualties in the town, but there are people who lost homes and now are living as refugees. The road between Tapaktuan and Medan is open, she says, and buses and passenger vans are making the trip. She confirmed that the pier is undamaged, and when I asked about the towns along the coast up to Blangpidie, she thought they were generally ok, and for the other outlying towns to the south, the same. We know that there were many victims at Blangpidie, hopefully not as bad as Meulaboh, but it's also located in a broader, flatter area than the towns further south. I passed messages to loved ones, and cleared the line. She sounded so cheerful, lightening my spirits with a voice like music. Kampung Hilir sounds to be perfectly normal, if that can even be imaginable anywhere on the Aceh coast right now. Then again, the capacity of Indonesian people to maintain a cheerful attitude in the face of the most extreme and difficult conditions has always impressed me.

It is possible that a young person in Tapaktuan might not know exactly what's happening in the other towns to the north and south, but her description matches that of a report in Analisa Daily (Indonesian language). In that report, mainly regarding the loss of approximately 75% of the South Aceh fishing fleet, it said that most of the 13 municipalities which are along the coast had suffered some damage by the waves. The South Aceh government's emergency coordination post said that there were 200 houses destroyed, 351 heavily damaged, 250 lightly damaged. The greatest portion of these were at Labuhanhaji, where 100 houses at Desa Pasar Lama were destroyed along with dozens of the fishing boats. Labuhanhaji is at the northern border of Aceh Selatan, so it seems as if the regency was generally pretty lucky. The 75% loss of the fishing fleet will be a big one, previously estimated at around 3,000 boats. Fishing communities also lost significant numbers of houses and boats at Meukek and Sawang Ba'u (Baru?). The wave damaged a number of villages in the municipalities of Pasie Raja, Kluet Selatan down to Bakongan and Trumon in the south. (see Maps of Aceh, etc. on the sidebar)

South Aceh had only nine deaths due to the tsunami, five of which were in a taxi / van in Kluet Selatan. Five others in the same vehicle survived. The paper didn't specify where the other four fatalities were. But this is an amazing fact: nine deaths in all Aceh Selatan, tens of thousands in Meulaboh city. More than 113,000 deaths confirmed in Aceh as a whole, at last report from Indonesian media. An official who had flown over the length of the coast told MetroTV that there are at least 200 encampments in the interior highlands, of people who had fled the coast. Refugee numbers across Aceh are estimated now at more than 500,000.

The area between Labuhan Haji and Meulaboh now remains the big question. The coast from Calang to Meulaboh sounds like the ground zero region (not to minimize the losses in Banda and elsewhere), but how much further south does it extend? A UN official was quoted yesterday saying that basically, they knew nothing of the situation south of Meulaboh and were very worried. I can't see how that could possibly be true, that they really had collected no information at all from the air? At nearly the end of the second week? Somebody needs to coordinate UN officials into talking with the local governments still operating on the ground -- those that still exist at least. But I bet the guy who said that was last seen heading back to his five star operations and coordination center high above Jakarta. Perhaps a joint assessment project for improvements to communications protocol, would be called for?

UPDATE: Here's an article that will answer many of your questions about Aceh, such as why the rest of the world has never heard of it. Understanding Aceh - courtesy of Indonesia Help blog.

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