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A New Hope: Indonesia After The Tsunami

Five years after the Indian Ocean tsunami destroyed the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh, San Francisco photographer Lianne Milton wanted to see how the city was faring. She traveled there in November and documented a surprising recovery.

In Milton's words, the people of Banda Aceh are almost better off now than they were before the devastation: "They lived with 30 years of war in a politically unstable region ... It was as unstable as the earthquakes that haunt the country," she wrote in an e-mail. The upside of demolition was the opportunity to rebuild from scratch.

Almost exactly five years ago, on the day after Christmas in 2004, enormous swells of water engulfed the city at the tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The tsunami was the result of a magnitude 9.1 earthquake that shook the entire Indian Ocean, causing devastation all along the water — and an estimated death toll of 230,000 people.

In the wake of total destruction, hundreds of international aid organizations stepped up and rebuilt the city, enabling a new economy and a "renewed sense of peace and progress," as Milton wrote. And in addition to the new infrastructure is a new political climate. The 2005 Helsinki peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the rebel army of the Free Aceh Movement ended much of the political strife that had plagued the area for years. Despite the wreckage, the future is looking auspicious for Banda Aceh.

Hear the NPR story, Five Years After The Tsunami.

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