By Bill Tarrant
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) – The ship almost looks like it belongs in the neighbourhood, swept miles inland almost five years ago after a cataclysmic earthquake spawned the worst tsunami known to mankind.
Local touts in Banda Aceh escort tourists around the 2,600-tonne PLTD Apung I, recalling a sunny Sunday morning on December 26, 2004 when the earth shook for almost 10 minutes.
As people ran in panic from their homes, waves taller than the palm trees in their yards and speeding across the ocean as fast as a jet plane crashed into lives here on the western tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra island and around the Indian Ocean rim, killing at least 226,00 people.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, flying over Banda Aceh in January 2005, said the city looked like it had “just been hit by a nuclear weapon. Completely flattened.” In fact, the 9.15 quake, second-most powerful ever recorded, hit with a force equal to 1,500 times the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
When I last came here four years ago, the ship sat like a hulking horror amid rubble as far as the eye could see. Survivors huddled in tents nearby cared for by charities.
Now, the view from the top deck of the ship is of tidy new neighbourhoods built with some of the $6.7 billion (4.1 billion pounds) that poured into Aceh. Children play on swings in the Tsunmai Education Park next to it.
“I would say that on balance we did build back better, and I think they are better positioned to face the future,” former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy for the tsunami recovery effort said in an interview in New York.
A rainbow spans a cobalt sky between the ship and a new $7.2 million, four-storey, ship-shaped tsunami museum, opening this week, a few blocks away.