Tsunami-ravaged Aceh rises rapidly from the ruins

Tsunami-ravaged Aceh rises rapidly from the ruins

MEULABOH, Indonesia - Rows of new houses and beautiful mosques with glittering minarets give little clue that the sleepy Indonesian fishing town of Meulaboh was the ground zero of the 2004 Asian tsunami, highlighting the success of a multi-billion-dollar reconstruction effort.

The peaceful scenes now are a contrast to those a decade ago in the community in Aceh province, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, which was closest to the epicentre of a monster earthquake that generated the killer waves.

When disaster struck on December 26, 2004, thousands in Meulaboh were killed, houses reduced to rubble, trees uprooted, and the only buildings left standing were a few of the better-constructed mosques in the staunchly Islamic area.

With roads destroyed and communication lines wiped out, the town was almost completely cut off for weeks, leaving people desperately fighting for survival amid piles of debris, reliant on air drops or deliveries by boat for food.

"The tsunami broke everything we held dear, our homes, our families," resident Saleha, 50, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.

"But it did not break our spirit. We pulled ourselves together and let God handle the rest."

In the aftermath of the disaster, which left almost 170,000 dead in Indonesia and tens of thousands more in countries round the Indian Ocean, a huge global relief and reconstruction effort swung into action.

Almost $7 billion (S$9 billion) in aid was paid out in the following years, with more than 140,000 houses rebuilt across Aceh, as well as thousands of kilometres (miles) of roads, numerous new schools and health centres.

The rapid reconstruction was helped by the end of a decades-long separatist conflict, with a peace deal between rebels and Jakarta struck less than a year after the disaster.

"Many non-governmental organisations and individuals from foreign countries and Jakarta came to help. Without them, Meulaboh would not have recovered," Alaidinsyah, chief of West Aceh district which includes the town, told AFP.

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