Indonesia - Worst-hit Banda Aceh back to life

by Zhan Jiefeng, Wang Lili, Yanda

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Feb 1, 2005 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Streets of the Tsunami worst-hit Banda Aceh in Indonesia are crowded with trucks shipping trash and debris, bulldozers and other heavy machinery removing ruins, and minibuses and motorcycles carrying citizens who just returned from outside.

Workers and local citizens are removing rotten woods and debris and rebuilding houses on the roadside despite of the burning hot weather while some people leisurely sit under trees at the riverbank chatting. Local newspapers are sold everywhere.

With a population of 400,000, Banda Aceh is the capital of Aceh province, where more than 220,000 people were killed or missing and some 5,000 square kilometers of areas were leveled by the monster tsunami following a strong earthquake on Dec. 26 last year. More than a half million of homeless people fled to other places for refuge afterwards.

The dying city is now recovering to its health with the supply of electricity and tapped water and the reopen of shops, markets, hotels, post offices, ports, hospitals and schools.

Street markets provide all sorts of vegetables and fruits such as carrot, egg plant, "kol", cassava leaves, tomato, egg and orange. Residents are busily selecting their favorable goods or bargaining for prices.

According to shop assistants, prices for most locally-produced vegetables are similar to December just before the coming of the tsunami, but prices for vegetable transported from outside such as eggplant, cucumber and cabbage are higher because the terrible tsunami destroyed many roads and bridges.

Lacks of sufficient clean water to wash tableware, some restaurants have to sell packaged goods.

Hotel Medan, one of the largest hotels in Banda Aceh, took the lead in opening to the public while repairing its buildings and removing debris and dirt brought by the tsunami recently.

"Although the boarding condition has not yet reached the standard before the coming of the tsunami, the number of guests to my hotel is on the rise," said the landlady Tjong Jok Feng, an Indonesian citizen of Chinese origin.

She noted that guests to her hotel used to be business people from other parts of Indonesia. At present, many of them are neighbors whose houses were destroyed by the tsunami.

At present, there are only a dozen taxis in the city with the price similar to December.

A driver usually works from 7:00 am to 9:00 p.m. and earns between 300,000 and 500,000 rupiah ( near 32.7-54.4 US dollars) a day.

The main harbor has resumed operation with two big boats carrying passengers from Banda Aceh to Sabang island, in northern part of Aceh province.

The Unsyiah and the Ar-Raniri Islamic universities in Aceh province reopened Tuesday, and thousands of the students are expected to live in temporary settlements because their living places were destroyed in the tsunami disaster.

According to Deputy Rector of the Unsyiah university Darni Daud, the student number in the two universities totaled 23,000 before the natural disaster. But the number of students registered accounted for only a half.

Most primary and middle school students are in school at present.

To recover economy, the government of Aceh province has urged all people of all communities to make contribution to the reconstruction of the province.

Business people who escaped to other places because of the tsunami are urged to return to the province and resume their business.