Remembering the Boxing Day tsunami: rising from the ruins

p-THA0024On Boxing Day 2004, a devastating tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean. The disaster was one of the worst in living memory and triggered an enormous outpouring of support from people around the world. Ten years on, Red Cross media officer Nichola Jones returns to Indonesia to see the impact of your donations.

The tsunami was triggered by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off the northern coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

The giant wave killed 226,000 people and caused widespread devastation across coastal areas of 14 countries.


Roundup: Boxing Day tsunami, five years on

On this day five years ago, one of the deadliest natural disasters in history struck eleven countries in the Indian Ocean.

Under the water off the west coast of Sumatra a magnitude 9.2 underwater earthquake – the second largest ever recorded –  triggered a series of tsunamis that killed 230,000 people and devastated thousands of communities. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and the Maldives were the hardest hit.

Earthquake proof housesFive years on, the survivors of the Boxing Day tsunami have rebuilt their lives and communities with the help of the British Red Cross and other aid agencies. Our delegate Mandy George visited one of the worst affected areas, Banda Aceh in Indonesia, this month to learn how the country has recovered and hear the stories of survivors as they remember the Boxing Day disaster five years ago.

She recorded her trip on the British Red Cross delegate diaries blog and on Twitter, and you can see the photographs from the journey on Flickr.

The BBC also visited Aceh and describe how ‘where once there was nothing, there is now a city bustling with life…In place of that desolate landscape [after the tsunami], there are now rows and rows of newly-built houses, red and blue roofs glinting in the sunlight.

The Guardian visited Dhuvaafaru in the Maldives, Thailand and Banda Aceh to explore the Red Cross’s role in ‘rebuilding lives and salvaging communities’, guided by a motto of ‘build back better’ – the strategy of replacing housing structures with earthquake resistant homes that would stand a better chance of protecting residents from the effects of natural disasters in future.

The Times described ‘the new dawn’ for the people of Aceh following the tsunami related the stories of several Acehnese locals who saw the 100ft waves destroy their homes. They tell how ‘nearly every survivor in Aceh has a story to tell of that Sunday morning when the sky blackened, the birds disappeared and three massive bomb-like explosions from the sea heralded three gigantic waves, each higher and more ferocious than the last, cutting a swathe through Aceh’s land and people.’

The New York Times wrote how, since 2004, ‘more than 800 nongovernmental organizations, multilateral agencies and donor countries have combined to spend $6.7 billion’ on the reconstruction effort in Aceh.

The Scotsman described the appeal following the disaster as one that left ‘a legacy to be proud of’ and said how the British Red Cross and other members of the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC ) “‘engaged… in a way which built trust, ownership and responsibility. Their reconstruction programmes have left a legacy that is more than just bricks and mortar.’

CNN reported on the prayers and memorial ceremonies across Asia today to remember those lost in the tsunami: “‘We are only human’ said a woman who lost her teenage children and several nieces in the tsunami. ‘We’ll never really forget.‘”

Reuters also visited a memorial in Thailand where they saw ‘hundreds of lanterns [floating] into the sky at Patong in one of many events across the region‘. Associated Press described how ‘Buddhist monks chanted on white-sand beaches in Thailand and thousands prayed at mosques in Indonesia‘.

5 years on: Twitter updates from Indonesia

As Sarah wrote last week, this month marks the five year anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated 13 countries and destroyed millions of homes on Boxing Day 2004.

After the tsunami struck, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement mobilised thousands of staff and volunteers across Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka to carry out search and rescue, relief distribution and a range of health activities, from first aid to psychological support. In May 2009 the British Red Cross completed it’s recovery programme after building more than 2,600 new earthquake resistant homes and distrubuting over £4million in cash to survivors.

This month, we’ve launched an interactive game to show how money raised by the emergency appeal in 2004 was spent and give an idea of the difficult decisions involved in disaster management and recovery. As well as that, one of our press officers, Amanda George has flown out to Indonesia to get a first hand look at how the communities ravaged by the tsunami have rebuilt in the five years since it struck.

She touched down in Jakarta on Saturday and has already seen some amazing sights, heard moving stories from survivors, and travelled to the regions where Red Cross aid made such a difference to the communities at the centre of the disaster.

Although internet access is patchy, Mandy’s been able to keep in touch to describe the vist by Twitter, as well as sending photographs and blog posts when she can. You can follow the journey live by subscribing to the British Red Cross Twitter feed – below is a sample of Mandy’s updates straight from Aceh in northern Indonesia.

One of the strangest things Mandy’s seen so far is a 2,600 ton ship stranded 5km inland from the coast, washed ashore by the wave. She’s met some inspirational people and even had a close encounter with a 4 foot crocodile – all within a few days!

You can follow Mandy’s updates by signing up to Twitter (it only takes a minute and you don’t have to give out any personal information) and following @BritishRedCross. Mandy’s updates are all tagged ^MG.

Indonesia: the road to recovery begins

This weekend, two months on from the earthquake that devastated the city of Padang in Sumatra, Indonesia our emergency response unit will wrap up its operation.

I’ve just got off the phone to Dan Sanger, who’s been leading the team for the past four weeks. Listen to the interview and find out about what the team has been doing and how things are looking for survivors of the quake.

To listen to the audio below you need Flash.

Indonesia relief: Get it in and get it out

For the past six weeks or so, we’ve been recording interviews with our logistics experts who are in Indonesia. They’re making sure the thousands of relief items are well organised when they arrive in the earthquake zone so they can be promptly sent out to the survivors who need them. 

This week, team leader Dan Sanger tells us how the team has managed to reach 3,500 families in two days with essential items like tarpaulins and mosquito nets.

Listen to the interview using the player below (you need to have Adobe Flash Player to listen). You can still support our Asia Pacific Disasters Appeal.

Delivering relief in Indonesia earthquake zone

For more than a month since earthquakes hit Sumatra in Indonesia, the British Red Cross has had teams of logistics experts working on the ground organising relief supplies for the survivors.

We’ve been keeping in touch with our colleagues on the ground there in a series of phone interviews. A few minutes ago, one of our press officers, Mark South, spoke to Dan Sanger, who’s leading the British Red Cross team.

Have a listen, and don’t forget that you can support our work there through the Asia Pacific Disasters Appeal.

Becoming jobless

A woman wearing a Bangladesh Red Crescent vest speaks into a megaphoneDon’t get me wrong; in the current climate I’m pleased to have a job. The British Red Cross has been supporting a project to develop regional disaster response capacity in South Asia. In a sense this is working myself out of a job. Why should a disaster response require people from the so-called ‘developed’ countries to be deployed?

Well, experience has shown us that immediate rescue is carried out by local people and the reality then is that there are capable disaster management professionals from the country or region in question, particularly within the Red Cross. So we need to be doing more to facilitate the use of these skills within disaster response operations.

Aid worker interview from Indonesia earthquake zone

Dan Sanger must be just about the only person working hard to make himself redundant.

Two days ago, Dan arrived in Indonesia to take over from the first team of emergency logistics experts the British Red Cross sent to the earthquake zone. Dan’s leading a team making sure relief supplies get to the area, and he’s also handing over the operation to the Indonesia Red Cross.

My colleague Mark South just talked to him to find out how it’s going. Have a listen and find out more about our Asia Pacific Disasters Appeal.