Five Years Ago Today
Aceh did exist, of course, but with 166,000 dead or missing it had borne the brunt of the Indian Ocean tsunami, triggered by a 9.15-magnitude earthquake off the Indonesian coast on Dec. 26, 2004. It was a truly international catastrophe: the tsunami struck 13 countries, killing 226,000 people of 40 nationalities. Five years later, a first-time visitor to the worst-affected countries — Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand — might find the wave's terrible path hard to detect, thanks to a multinational, multi-billion-dollar reconstruction effort. Across Aceh, thousands of houses were built with foreign aid in what were once wastelands. In Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, new homes surround a 2,600-ton ship pushed a mile inland by the Tsunami. It is now a tourist attraction.
This was one of the most hideous catastrophes of a decade of hideous catastrophes. But the consensus is that they've managed to come back fairly smartly.
I recall watching the footage on the days after Christmas back in 2004 and then seeing the global response and feeling that the post-9/11 paranoia might be starting to lift a little bit. Global cooperation was in, at least for a little while. US soldiers were deployed to help not make war. It was horrible and life affirming at the same time.
Nine months later came Katrina.