Cars. Fishing boats. Houses. Entire villages. The 2004 tsunami left Banda Aceh with mountains of debris up to 6 kilometers (4 miles) inland.
Driving in the remade communities today, it’s easy to wonder where it all went. Some of it is still there — recycled into road materials, buildings and furniture. Some of it was burned, creating new environmental hazards. And most of it was simply washed out to sea.
Ten years after that gigantic wave engulfed this city of 4 million on the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra island on Dec 26, Banda Aceh has been almost totally restored. The tangled mountains of rubbish are gone, and it’s hard to imagine the destruction that once choked rivers, blocked streets and ripped up trees by the roots.
The endless heaps of twisted metal, splintered wood and broken concrete have all disappeared except for some scattered reminders for tourists and local residents. A drive along the coast highlights a stunning coastline with new houses perched near the beach. Lush mangroves have been planted to help withstand future tsunamis, fishermen are back at sea and farmers are again working their rice paddies.
Still, authorities are concerned about the health and environmental risks posed by debris contaminated by oil, asbestos and medical waste sitting on the seafloor off the coast and in 32 unregulated dump sites around the city.
Banda Aceh was the hardest hit city by the disaster, which devastated hundreds of communities in more than a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean.
The tsunami left an estimated 10 million cubic meters (13 million cubic yards) of debris here, most of it washed into the ocean. If all that was squeezed into a 1-hectare (2 1/2 acre) field, it would create a tower of trash 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) tall.