44: Indonesia > Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam > Ulee Lheue “Zero Point Tsunami”

Less than 4km west of Banda Aceh, lies the fishing township of Ulee Lheue. It used to be the port of Banda Aceh.

Along the new road from Banda Aceh to Ulee Lheue, we see scars of the dreadful Tsunami of the morning of 26/12/2004, such as this once stately house, which is left as it was that fateful day. Along the road from Banda Aceh to Ulee Lheue, a damaged house

The owner and his 7 family members were carried away by the Tsunami and were never found.

Next to it, a memorial

A kilometer up the road towards the sea, we come to a mass grave, said to contain remains of 64,000 victims, buried in 3 layers. That number of people can easily fill up a big stadium. At the back, lie the ruins of a hospital complex.Up the road, a mass grave

I’m told this is the 2nd largest mass grave (with the largest containing 67,000 bodies). The dead are declared martyrs.Buried here 64,000 bodies, in 3 layers

The main gate to the grave, with phrases expressing our subservience to God.Main gate to grave

Pillars surround the compound, with the 99 names of Allah. In total 170,000 Indonesians lost their lives to the Tsunami, while more than 500,000 others were displaced.Bordered by the 99 names of Allah

A few hundred meters away, we come to ‘Zero Point Tsunami’.At Ulee Lheue, 4km nor'west of Banda Aceh, a poignant proclamation

In front of the sign, a huge vacant piece of real estate, where a crowded bustling township used to exist all the way to the sea, now no more. In just 15min on the morning of 26th Dec, 2004, everything (living or otherwise) was swept away.In just 15min on 26 Dec 2004, all gone

Behind the sign, there is the old Baiturrahim Mosque, which used to be surrounded by houses. The Tsunami waves, at almost 30m high coming from the right, mowed down everything in its path. Even the top part of the mosque was destroyed, now faithfully reconstructed.Nearby, the historic Baiturrahim Mosque alone survived

Silent witness to, arguably, the deadliest tsunami in history.Witness to a terrible tragedy, water was almost 30m high

After the mosque, we cross a bridge where passenger boats going to scenic Pulau Weh dock. Beyond, there used to be fishing villages, but now we see just water. That part was also hard-hit by the Tsunami.Passenger terminal with vessel going to Pulau Weh

On the other side, where the original village of Ulee Lheue used to stand, are just flatland and water.Used to be packed houses and mangroves here

Amidst the ruins, rehabilitation work is still in progress.Rehabilitation work in progress

Remnants of dwellings and boats still litter the place.The scars still there

A newly-built rocky embankment helps to prevent erosion caused by the exposed beach. This spot used to be full of houses and coconut trees.IMG_9949.JPG

Only this brick tower survived the waves, which came in taller than the tower itself.Looking west, only that tower survived here

The original beach, packed with people and houses, is some 200m away to the left, now under the water. To the left, houses used to extend 200m into the present sea

To the right of the embankment, the ‘new’ lake becomes a playground.Where there were once land and houses and coconuts, now just water

I just can’t imagine, looking at the beautiful clear water now, how vicious the sea was that December morning. In just 15min, people, houses, cars, pets, livestocks, everything – located where the boats are below – were violently wiped out. Some were even carried all the way to Banda Aceh, 4km away.Beautiful crystal clear sea water

Now it is a peaceful, scenic, touristy sort of place. The weather was similar to today’s when the Tsunami hit. Fine blue sky.IMG_9984.JPG

NGO spotting: Kuwait Red Crescent Society is doing its good deeds here. NGO spotting

We drive along a road, still under construction, built atop the old one, which was narrow.New road atop narrow old road

New townships are everywhere, each with its new mosque.
New mosque

But some remnants are still left untouched.Damaged shophouses still untouched

Entrance to a new housing area … Housing area

… funded by MDF. Which reminds me of a good friend, Mr Howard Yamaguchi, who’s doing great work for MDF – see his excellent blog HERE.

Thanks to these donors

Another relic – 2nd-storey floor collapsed to the ground.2nd storey floor collapsed

Along this road, we are at a beachfront, but pre-Tsunami, it was surrounded by villages and mangroves, with no sight of the sea far away. Now the sea is here.Now beachfront, previously surrounded by villages and mangroves with no sea in sight

Same here, and we are on a bridge. Note the damaged pillar. There used to be mangroves and fishing villages here too, now all gone.Same here, note the damaged bridge

More ruins of houses.More remnants

This used to be the pre-Tsunami port of Ulee Lheue. In fact this port served Banda Aceh. There was a huge power-generating vessel here, but was carried away by the waves 3km inland towards Banda Aceh. The very spot where the vessel PLTD APUNG 1 was anchored before being swept away to Banda Aceh

NGO spotting.NGO spotting

More sad leftovers of ravaged houses.More reminders

Some survivors are still living in long-houses, meant to be temporary.Still in temporary long-houses

A brand new govt building.Replacement govt office building

Now, in Ulee Lheue and other coastal areas, this sign is ubiquitous.Ubiquitous sign

Epilogue: Ulee Lheue, before and after. For orientation, Baiturrahim Mosque is at bottom-left, near the big T-junction. Just above it is the bridge where the boats to Pulau Weh moor.

Ulee Lheue, then and now

Please continue at the next chapter …

One Comment

  1. Howard Yamaguchi 20 March 2008