R eport from Banda Aceh January 18, 2005

No grammer or spell check…pretty rough but at least some thoughts…Early this morning I saw something…
Somebody spraypainted “26-12-04 tragidi, hari minggu, hari maut” on a demolished wall…it means Dec 26, 04 : Tragic Sunday, deadly day” wow, that really said it all in terms of images I captured today…

Today was jam-packed, it was like everything just happened in front of me…first we were driving out the beach road and i stopped at a place I know, where a body was, with a backdrop of destruction, the body was still there floating, 4 days after i saw it last, I knew World Emergency Relief would want the shot, so I went there to get it. after i finished, we headed down the road and came across the usual body bags on the side of the road, although there were quite a few more than normal so I spent a while photographing that too. a bit beyond that I heard a heilicopter overhead, pretty loud and getting louder…the thing starts to land on the road about 200 yards behind us, so i tell the driver to stop. ther area we were in is know locally as “the wasteland” its like armageadon really, its like hiroshima photos after the nuclear blast…well as this american chopper starts to land people come out of nowhere and start running full tilt toward it.

I jump out of the car and start running and shooting…the chopper is kicking up a huge amount of shit, and the wind is like 100 mph….the thing almost lands on the crowd and the door opens and they start handing out MREs (military Meals Ready to Eat)…it was totally chaotic, and the people were basically trying to board the helicopter and this marine is like holding his ground at the door while the guy behind is throwing stuff out. in about 3 minutes maybe less the chopper is empty and starts to take off with the marine waving and yelling to get back. the take off blast was harder than the wind created at landing and all I could do was face the other direction and point my camera back in the general direction and shoot blindly. after that I photographed the people opening MREs and looking at them kinda confused like…what the hell is this….me and the guy I was with tried to explain that it was food ! they saw the american flag on the box and kept thanking us, like we had somehow been involved! these folk have nothing other than what they get at the IDP Internally displaced persons camps which is rice rice and rice so they are happy to get anything else.

A bit later down the road we came across a rescue team (that means they find bodies) I followed them to see what the;y were up to and judging by the smell we were around one or more bodies, I made some photos as they were removing someone from the rubble …seriously I do not know how these folks do this job day after day…its horrific and I was gagging from the smell as I was shooting it. about all they can do is remove what;s left of the body and then determine if it is male or female, then the bag it and carry it to the road…shit, this is nasty stuff and frankly they are just getting started with what’s near the road, and the rubble goes on and on and on way beyond that…I imagine the body count is underestimated…way underestimated. and furthermore as I talk to guys were here in the immediate aftermath they say the bodies were everywhere, literally everywhere.

Anyway, next we came upon some elephants working to sniff out and dig debris from around some bodies. Bhava, the guy from ICMC was with me so we went over for a look. the elepants were moving heavy loads of wood and junk…Bhava yelled for me to come over where he was watching some rescue guys digging in a half collapsed building,,,the rescue guys summoned a mahout (elephant trainer rider) and his elephant to come over. I climbed into the wreckage to see and there was a horrific site…a bady decomposed body…thank goodness the relatives were not around…

Anyway the elephants dont pick up the bodies, they just clear around them then the rescue guys bag and remove the remains…well Bhava, who is Nepalese and a guy who has worked around elephants, was watching this whole thing unfold and he noticed something that I didnt…we both noticed that the elephant seemed uncooperative when it approached, and sniffed a mattress that was near the body, gingerly nudging it and being careful where he stepped nearby. For a moment he obeyed the mahout and started to remove stuff from around the body and then he backed away and refused to go on…the mohout was prodding it but the elephant would not go back in (now at this point Bhava says he saw a teardrop coming out of the elephant’s right eye, the eye on the opposite side of me) I have no reason to doubt him and he says that elephants really do “cry” but perhaps the eye was just like that or it had over active tear glands or something, but anyway anyone could tell that this elephant did know enough to be careful where he stepped and he was certainly unhappy about the job he was doing…I don’t blame him, because I saw and photographed what he was looking at in that hole…a badly decomposed body laying face up with a terrible wide open-mouth scream-like expression … later on in the day,I kept thinking how terrible this is…this was a person, someone who was loved and cherished and to look like this now…again, I am so happy the family was not there to see it.

That was pretty much it for today, except for seeing a three story hospital building, left standing amid the wasteland, with water damage to the roof…one can scarcely imagine a wave that high in a place like this. I thought i should write about it while it is fresh in my mind so you can understand it best…bottom line is, no matter how much you see or how hard I try to capture it in a photo, it is impossible to make anyone who does not see it in person, understand just how devastating it must have been…rather than be amazed at the number of deaths, I am amazed that anyone in the tsunami’s path could have survived!

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