Return to KMO

Jan 15, 2009
*Special to asia!

"It's about time." I'm whispering to myself. No. I'm exclaiming out loud in my head! What took me so long? The last time I was here was on December 23, 2005. Three days before the Indian Ocean tsunami levelled the northern tip of Sumatra.

I looked around the dive shop and apart from the facade, most else had changed. "They had to replace the doors because they were destroyed when the tsunami hit." Debbie said that the wooden panels on the second floor of the shop were washed away and that the bamboo balcony needed fixing and some of the door frames were damaged. Unlike most of the houses on KM0 (so-called because it is the eastern most point of the Indonesian archipelago, and is where the zero marker of the group of islands begins) the Lumba Lumba dive shop was constructed of bricks and concrete. "What's that up there?" I gestured at a long piece of red electrician tape stuck across the length of windows on the second floor of the shop. "That's to mark the level of the water when the tsunami was at its highest." It was over five meters from the ground. All I could say was, "That's scary." Debbie was one of the people who were still on the island when the wave hit the beach the morning of December 26, 2005. She remembers the earthquake, the screams, people running, the sea receding. She was in bed. Some divers were out on a dive. The boat couldn't reach come into shore for four hours because the sea had retreated and it was too shallow. The two Swiss divers Sara and Lars were in the shop when the first wave came in. Ton and Marianne, the Dutch couple that owns the operation and have been living on the island for over a decade where just outside the shop in a wooden hut washing some equipment in the water troughs. "You don't see many cats anymore." Debbie didn't have to elaborate. It's clear the local cat population was taken out by the wave. Along with local livestock. One of Ton and Marianne's pet dogs didn't make it either.

There were few human casualties on Weh island because the landscape is mountainous and thankfully, most of the coast was shielded by dense primary mangrove forest. One of the island's north-facing coastlines plunges 60 meters into the seabed. The unique geography and presence of thick coastal forests meant that the force of the wave was stopped or reduced before it hit areas of human habitation. Thanks to Sunny, who's experience of earthquakes and tsunami's having grown up in Japan, led him to instinctively wake the villagers from their beds and herd them up the hill to safety as soon as the felt the earth tremour.

"They say 250,000 people died." says Ali, a resident of Weh and co-founder of an organisation called Children of Sumatra that provides aid to children born with cleft palates. "But that's only the number of bodies they found. Many more were washed away, missing. Some say the true figure is closer to half a million."

By the time I heard from Ali, I'd lost count of how many people had raised the memories of December 26, 2005. A disaster of such magnitude was never to be forgotten. Too many lives were claimed. Homes were lost. Children orphaned. Why did I think it'd be a taboo to bring up the subject? It is milestone in the history of this part of the country. It changed lives. Turned the course of history. Leftovers of the disaster remain throughout the affected areas. It should be talked about. People remain homeless, widowed, alone. Especially because it is so scary to recall, we shouldn't be afraid to remember.

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

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