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Ships stand as monuments to nature’s destruction

They are ships that fell from the sky; two immovable objects,their very presence defying reason. Residents call them acts of God.

Written by L A Times,Washington Post | Banda Aceh,indonesia |
November 3, 2009 12:13:16 am

They are ships that fell from the sky; two immovable objects,their very presence defying reason. Residents call them acts of God. Most cannot fathom that the two ocean vessels were transported miles inland by flood waters of the 2004 tsunami that ravaged this small city on Sumatra’s northern tip. Miles apart,both have been left intact as memorials to 170,000 residents of Aceh province who were lost in the catastrophe.

Five years after the waters rose to biblical heights,one of the ships is revered as a Noah’s Ark,a 100-foot wooden boat that crashed down on top of a house,providing refuge for 59 people who insist they would have died without its shelter. The other is stranger still—a colossal vessel weighing 2,600 tonnes that plopped down two miles inland. It’s a tsunami graveyard: Neighbours say a dozen bodies may still languish beneath the ship.

As he snapped photographs of the iron vessel,called the Apung,one tourist from Jakarta called the ship a warning that man cannot always undo what God and nature have accomplished. “Who among us could ever move this big ship?” said the man,Sugiono. “God can bring it here from the sea,but we just don’t have the ability to bring it back.”

Triggered by a major deep-sea earthquake 80 miles off the coast of Banda Aceh,the wall of water hit at 8 a.m. on Dec. 26,2004,leaving death and wreckage in its wake. One survivor who runs a market in the shadow of the larger ship lost his five-year-old daughter in the panic. Bustamam,45,was at home with family when the earthquake hit. Within moments,he heard the cries of neighbours. “We were all running in fear when the first wave came,” he recalled. “I was holding my five-year-old as tightly as I could. But my head was hit by a piece of wood. When I came to my senses,my little girl was gone.” His wife,Ani Maulani,said she and the couple’s other two children were swept to the roof of a house 300 ft away. When the apocalypse subsided,she took a breath to consider her new surroundings. And there it was,towering 60 ft above the poor,low-lying neighborhood. “At first,I thought it was some big house,” she recalled.

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The Apung,a power-generating ship owned by the local electrical company,was carried two miles inland,where it crashed down atop two houses,killing the inhabitants. Now it’s one of Banda Aceh’s biggest tourist attractions.

Several miles away,in another tsunami-struck neighbourhood,officials left the so-called Noah’s Ark ship in its new landlocked mooring out of a sense of reverence. On a recent morning,workers scraped and painted the ship’s exterior,a refurbishment project leading up to the fifth-anniversary ceremony. Next door,Basyariah Nurdin recalled the day the boat dropped down on Banda Aceh. She and her neighbours were running from the flood,taking shelter on the second floor of a house. But soon the waters rose to their necks,she said. Suddenly,they heard a sound “like thunder”. Moments later,they broke through the ceiling to reach the safety of the roof.

“We stayed there for seven hours,until the waters went down,” Nurdin said. “It really was Noah’s Ark. I don’t think we would be here today if it weren’t for that boat.”

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