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Aceh earthquake: Spectre of Boxing Day tsunami haunts as more than 23,000 displaced

Sydney Morning Herald - December 9, 2016

Jewel Topsfield, Pidie Jaya, Indonesia – As the number of displaced people from Wednesday's earthquake ballooned to more than 23,000, the scarred communities of Aceh confronted an old fear: the spectre of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

Mariana Yusuf is among several thousand people sheltering at Taqwa mosque in the hard-hit town on Meureudu, breastfeeding her baby amidt the chaos.

Her wooden home, on stilts above water, is intact after the earthquake. However the family is too traumatised to return after living through the 2004 disaster, which struck the day before Ms Yusuf's wedding and almost washed away their home. She knew dozens who were killed.

"The morning of the earthquake [on Wednesday] we went out, we ran here," Ms Yusuf says. "After that we were too afraid to go home. There were cracks on the streets, they were split open."

Like many fishermen, Ms Yusuf's husband is too afraid to go to sea. "When it's safe, he will go to sea."

Pidie Jaya continues to be buffeted by aftershocks, with many people choosing to sleep outside. "We still have fear. There was damage to the mosque itself but we feel safe because this is the house of Allah," said Media, another woman at the shelter.

The earthquake death toll is now 100, having been revised down, with more than 700 injured.

The National Search and Rescue Agency on Friday painstakingly searched for people still trapped alive below the rubble at Meureudu market, where more than 15 bodies had already been found. Pandawa Ady from the agency said sniffer dogs had pinpointed three possible locations for bodies. At least one family was still missing.

The litany of destruction is already extensive: more than 11,500 houses and 71 mosques damaged and 52 bridges broken or cracked. Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency said that displaced people are being accommodated in 28 shelters across three regencies.

The International Organisation of Migration's Paul Dillon says memories of the Boxing Day tsunami, which killed 170,000 people in Indonesia alone, are still powerfully imprinted, particularly in coastal areas.

"Clearly there is a high degree of awareness of possible issues relating to the fallout from earthquakes," he says.

"From our perspective as an agency that works with displaced people we are obviously concerned to see an uptick from the 3200 displaced figure 36 hours ago to the new figure," he says.

"It's unclear how many will be long-term or medium-term displaced – the picture is opaque at the moment to the level of damage."

The Indonesian spirit of resilience is personified in Mariana, a housewife whose brick-and-cement house was completely destroyed in the convulsion. "If you have a wooden house you will be OK, if it's a permanent house forget it if it is not earthquake-proof," she tells us.

Despite her own worries, Mariana has volunteered to cook at the Taqwa mosque shelter, cheerfully emptying packets of powdered flavour into an enormous noodle pot. For every meal, 140 kilos of rice is cooked.

Aceh is abuzz with the visit of Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Friday. He toured a hospital in Sigli in the regency of Pidie and spoke to survivors at Atta Karuf mosque in Pidie Jaya.

The President asked children his standard question: can they name the five pillars of Pancasila, the founding principles of the Indonesian republic, from memory? The prize for knowing the answer was biscuits and books.

"I hope you all keep high spirits in your study, keep singing and stay happy. OK?" he tells them.

Mr Joko later announced the families of those who died would be eligible for 15 million Ruipah ($1500) in compensation and those who were injured would receive 5 million Rupiah.

The government would also help rebuild earthquake-resistant homes providing a stimulus of 40 million Rupiah for heavily damaged houses and 20 million Rupiah for partially damaged homes.

But despite the morale-boosting presidential visit, the list of casualties on the whiteboard outside Pidie Jaya's main hospital is a grim reminder of the devastation wreaked by Wednesday's 6.5-magnitude earthquake.

Abandoned trolley beds and a bundle of bloodied clothing litter tents outside the hospital. The hospital itself was ravaged by the quake, damaging the ICU unit, and prompting the transfer of severely injured patients to other hospitals.

"Patients started coming in one by one but they were difficult to treat because people were too scared to go into the hospital," says Dr Sri Wahyuzar. "Some doctors grabbed what supplies they could, sutures, IV, and treated people outside on mats."

Patients are still being treated outside in walkways covered by corrugated iron because aftershocks make it too dangerous to return to the already cracked building.

There are remarkable stories from the hospital beds lining the corridors. Wardiyah was asleep with her two-month-old son when her house began to shake. She instinctively rolled over to protect her baby, saving him from timber that struck her on the back.

"I didn't want to move because I was worried more debris from the roof would hit the baby," she says. "I was born here, I knew straight away it was an earthquake."

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/aceh-earthquake-spectre-of-boxing-day-tsunami-haunts-as-more-than-23000-displaced-20161209-gt7tyu.html

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/action/printArticle?id=1016533110