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.
On Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake triggered the massive Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people. The Indonesian province of Aceh was the worst hit, with almost 167,000 deaths. Five years later, a couple sits along a new jetty in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital and largest city of Aceh.
Photos by Lianne Milton
In Banda Aceh, a former hospital overlooks the city's second-largest cemetery. Unmarked graves hold the bodies of 14,264 people killed in the 2004 tsunami.
A woman sifts through dirt, pulling weeds in front of her new home, which was built by the Irish Red Cross. The tsunami killed a disproportionate number of women and children.
A staircase is all that is left on this abandoned property in a neighborhood that was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Hundreds of aid organizations from around the world rebuilt many of the homes. But this area, located near the water, had one of the highest death tolls in Banda Aceh.
Fishermen return from work along Aceh River. Many of them lost families and boats in the tsunami. But five years later, much of the industry and the fish market are back to the daily bustle.
The Grand Mosque survived the tsunami, but the adjacent building suffered major damage. The abandoned building will eventually be rebuilt as an indoor mall.
A woman gardens in front of her home, which was rebuilt by an aid organization. Most of the homes were rebuilt by the Irish Red Cross.
Acehnese women walk along a new jetty. Many families now head to the beaches on Sundays to relax.
A gatekeeper of the Aceh Tsunami Museum peeks from the portal window from the roof of the museum, which is now closed due to lack of funding. Beautification projects for the $7.2 million, four-story, ship-shaped museum include a grassy rooftop cafe.
Children run to a newly built mosque in their neighborhood. The tsunami devastated the neighborhood, killing most of its residents.
Students prepare to pray in a mosque at their state Islamic boarding school, which offers a national and Islamic curriculum.
Students sing a Lebanese pop song in Arabic class.
An Acehnese woman reads the Quran on the street. The city enforces a moderate form of Islamic law, introduced in 2002, on conduct and dress. In September, the Aceh Legislative Council endorsed a law legalizing caning and stoning of adulterers.
Indonesia's Army Chief of Staff, Gen. George Toisutta (center), speaks to local media about the handover from Gen. Soenarko (right) to Gen. Hambali Hanafiah (left).
Locals spend their Sundays at the beach in Lampu'uk, just outside of Banda Aceh. Here, the tsunami's waves traveled about five miles inland, killing nearly 4 out of every 5 people.
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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.