The tsunami warning in southern Chile today reminded me of the the 26 December, 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, 12 years ago. In retrospect, it was the first in a long string of natural and man made disasters that has struck our planet in the recent past. I, like everyone else, was transfixed to the astonishing but horrific images that appeared in the media. And like most of us, my holiday good will was with the people of the rim of the Indian Ocean, and my only thought, like many, was if only there was something I could do.....
I was fortunate to be seconded to UNICEF in Aceh Province, the earthquake epicenter in Indonesia, to assess the impact of the tsunami to water wells and water supply infrastructure, and to begin the redevelopment of groundwater supplies. It was in Aceh that I learned, first hand, what one person can do....and I do not mean me.
While assessing the impacted wells in the capital, Banda Aceh, I came upon some Indonesian graffiti scrawled on a broken cement wall, beneath a fishing boat suspended one floor above (I shot the air photos with a small film camera suspended from a frameless kite - no kidding!!). 3 years as the only white person on an island off the coast of Indonesian Borneo left me with a good grasp of the language. "With the permission of Allah, this boat above saved 54 persons." Hmmmmm. A young man, pictured below, stepped out and explained that there was not one, but three tsunami waves. The first wave deposited the fishing boat on the second floor of the standing building. He climbed into the boat, and then helped 53 others into the craft. The following two waves destroyed the remainder of the neighborhood....and certainly left me with no better explanation than only by the grace of Allah.....As the young man spoke, the survivors, most living in tents set up on bare foundations within 50 m of the rescue craft, stepped forward to add their personal stories of salvation.
Very few people were injured by the tsunami. Most either died, or survived. And each story of survival was similarly moving. I was always pleased and moved to be a listener.