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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 January, 2005, 14:49 GMT
Deserted Aceh in ruins

By Jonathan Head
BBC correspondent in Banda Aceh

The clear-up operation is underway
It's New Year's Day and I'm in a town I know well from many, many visits in the past but today I hardly recognise it.

This is Banda Aceh, which six days ago bore the full brunt of the tsunamis that tore into this part of the island of Sumatra.

Even now, after some kind of effort to clean it up, it looks uninhabitable.

Piles of debris and thick stinking mud covering most of the town. Many of the buildings cracked or badly damaged and most of all, almost no people.

The survivors are desperate to leave. There really is no place for them to live any more.

In much of the town, you now see more cats and dogs than human beings.

The damage is astounding. Just at the end of this road is a square I used to go to join hundreds of Acehnese families who would eat together in the evenings from different stalls selling food there.

Waves carried boats into the heart of the city
That is completely destroyed and bizarrely there is an enormous wooden fishing boat that has been hurled into the centre of the square by the force of the waves, from the port which is at least a kilometre away.

To some degree the main roads in Banda Aceh have been cleared of bodies now, but anywhere off the main roads you've still got an apocalyptic scene that is beyond description.

At the site of the main river through Banda Aceh, you could walk from one side of the river to the other just on the sea of bodies that is still sitting there under the main bridge.

Mass graves are being dug with mechanical diggers. The main problem now is that there doesn't seem to be anyone in charge of this operation. People here are in shock and there is no real government functioning.

Individual agencies, government departs and sections of the military and police all seem to be doing their own thing.

Contaminated water

There has also been an issue about whether the dead should be burnt or not. This is a very devoutly Islamic province and burning the dead is against Islamic custom. But the decision needs to be made.

The risk of disease here is enormous. We've had people coming to our house this morning asking if we've got any medicine.

There are people suffering from severe stomach problems and there's no significant medical assistance yet.

But it's water they need more than anything else. All the water supplies here are polluted with bodies and that's what people have to use.

The devastation here is still absolute and although aid is now arriving, the massive organised relief operation needed to distribute it is yet to get started.


SEE ALSO:
Aceh aid operation gets into gear
01 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Eerie quiet in Aceh
01 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific



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