Aceh tsunami survivor hopes next generation will learn lessons

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) – Armilla Yanti was returning from her regular Sunday trip to the market in this Indonesian city when a towering tsunami wave crashed ashore. She and her parents survived, but her two sisters were killed on that fateful day on Dec. 26, 2004.Fifteen years on, she frequently relives the traumatic events when recounting her story to visitors at the Aceh Tsunami Museum, where she works as a guide.

Visitors walk through a corridor as they visit Aceh Tsunami Museum in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Oviyandi Emnur

In doing so, she hopes to spread the lessons learned from her heartbreaking experience – such as the importance of early warning systems and fleeing to higher ground when an alarm is raised or if there is an earthquake.

“Since I’d experienced the trauma of tsunami, when I meet visitors I share my experiences… so that they will never forget,” said the 44-year-old. The museum where she works, built to commemorate the disaster, also has an education center and acts as a disaster shelter.

More than 230,000 people were killed in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other countries after a 9.1 magnitude quake off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province triggered a tsunami as high as 17.4 meters (57 feet).

Northern Aceh province bore the brunt of the disaster, where a total of 128,858 were killed and another 37,087 are still listed as missing, according to data compiled by the government and aid agencies.

Many lost their lives simply because there was little information on what to do.

“I always tell the younger generation if you live or near to the beach areas like us, and if there is a strong earthquake after the shock has stopped just run away,” said Mundiyah binti Sahan, 70, who sell souvenirs near a spot where a boat washed ashore by the tsunami remains lodged atop a building.

Local officials say they have put more efforts into tsunami mitigation and educating the communities.

Almost every village in the province has at least one tsunami-damaged building, which serves as a reminder of the destructive power of the waves. More than 25,600 buildings remain in the “red zone” that is considered prone to tsunamis, liquefaction and flooding, according to Banda Aceh’s public works and urban housing agency.

At the museum, kindergarten student Bima al Farizi did not hesitate when asked what she should do in the event of an earthquake and a tsunami.

“We should run to higher ground,” she said.

Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Alex Richardson

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