TOPICS > World

Tsunami Aftermath

January 6, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JOHN IRVINE: It may look like a cinematic image but it’s not; it’s a view of the city center from a window in this, the last house still standing on the way down to the sea.

Between this dwelling and the coast where before Boxing Day there was a thriving community, there’s now just wilderness and decay. It’s a huge acreage where the tsunami was at its most thorough. We feel compelled to keep coming back to this area to try to bring home what’s befallen these homes and their inhabitants.

In the last house lived a family of five. The eldest child was a teenage pop fan. The other two had bedrooms side- by-side — pink for girl, blue for boy. He was a soccer fan. We found a family photograph album lying open, a chronicle of three generations. There were wedding pictures, births had been recorded, as were religious ceremonies.

And perhaps most poignant was this: A seaside snap. They probably had only a few seconds to decide what to do. From what we can tell, they rushed upstairs to seek refuge in this corner of the house. They were extremely unlucky, for it’s the only piece of the building that collapsed under the weight of water.

We have no miracle to report, for we found the parents’ bodies in the rubble, their hands reaching out to each other in death. What happened to the children we don’t know, but the way the bodies are stacking up here, the odds must be stacked against them.

Eleven days on and this city is still littered with dead people. The problem is not the speed of collection; it’s the enormity of the task. Walking 100 yards, I’ve counted more than 40 bodies thrust up on both sides of the road.

Remember, these are just the corpses that the soldiers could find, the visible ones. How many more bodies must lie dead and buried under the mud and debris of homes, factories, shops, schools and hospitals?

When you look at the destruction, its enormity, it is incredible that anyone got out alive. We talked to a boy that was carried more than a mile and survived by clambering onto this balcony.

That said, in terms of a family, 14-year-old Aris is now alone in the world. He lost his parents and four siblings. The house he’d scrambled onto belongs to a doctor, a retired GP with three children of his own. He’s now adopted Aris as his fourth.

He’s like your son now?

DOCTOR: Yes, yes.

JOHN IRVINE: Understandably, they’re trying to keep the boy busy, but often, even during our brief time here, he lapsed into a thousand-yard stare as his young mind tried to contemplate what is bereavement beyond belief.