If a picture is worth a thousand words, the more than 600 images that Dr. Mohammed Arain this week brought home from the providence of Banda Aceh in Indonesia tell the story of a region destroyed.
The Dec. 26 Tsunami lasted only five minutes, from 8:26 to 8:31 a.m. In Banda Aceh 150,000 were killed and another 150,000 are missing.
One mass grave Arain saw on his 10-day humanitarian trip held more than 50,000 bodies of tsunami’s victims.
“Vehicles and motorcycles would slow down as a sign of respect when they passed the spot,” Arain said.
Prior to that fateful day the people of Banda Aceh had six hospitals. Their prosperous region had oil to sell as well as a wide variety of produce including rice, oranges, coconuts, bananas and exotic cactus fruit, Arain said.
One 300-bed, university hospital employed approximately 200 doctors and 800 nursing staff. The hospital stood in the path of the tsunami and the staff are among the missing or dead.
“The hospital is totally destroyed, the 300 patients including their beds disappeared,” Arain said.
The relief crews have set up clinics to treat the wounded with doctors, nurses and medical technicians from all over the world pouring into the country to help. They are able to treat approximately 200 people a day.
“Some people have lost legs, arms, they were just laying there crying for help,” Arain said.
One 57-year-old man who lost his entire family, parents, siblings, wife and children, has not eaten anything since the tsunami struck.
“He just stares some place, 24 hours a day, he asked the doctors ‘what is there to live for?’” Arain said.
He is in a near catatonic state, waiting to die. The relief works have put food next to his bed but he refuses to eat, Arain said.
A large percentage of the people of Banda Aceh who survived the initial tsunami will die from infections and mud pneumonia. Arain explained that the residents who did not drown, inhaled mud from deep under the ocean. If they had just inhaled water they could spit it out, but the mud and filth from the bottom of the ocean remains in their lungs along with infection.
“They are dying slow deaths from mud pneumonia,” Arain said.
Treatments such as bronchioscopy, antibiotics, hydration and proper nutrition will help make them better. Many have trouble finding the will to live, he said.
“One doctor there, his whole family got killed, he saw that and the next morning he was there trying to dig the mud out and trying to save the patients,” Arain said.
One privately owned hospital that structurally survived the tsunami had five foot deep mud in all the rooms that had to be cleaned out. Non Government Organizations from Australia and Germany spent weeks cleaning it out and rehabilitating it, Arain said.
The police of Banda Aceh moved their doctors into the facility and are helping as many of the people as they can. Arain suggested they negotiate a contract whereby the hospital would operate for three years for the people before ownership reverted back to the owners. Hundreds of volunteers are working around the clock for no compensation.
Arain said he got three or four hours sleep a day and spent the rest of the time working.
The orphanages really broke his heart, he said. The children are pathetic and cling to anyone who comes in contact with them. They are starved for affection. Those who don’t know what happened to their families retain the hope that a parent, siblings or other relative will find them. The haunted looks in the children’s eyes is a memory deeply etched in Arain’s soul.
Another vivid picture Arain carries with him is the devastation to the country left in the tsunami’s wake. Trees, snapped off with a five foot stump sticking out if the sand.
“The broken trees were then pushed like huge arrows through everything in the way, through buildings. For miles and miles all you can see is destruction,” Arain said.
One scene that he saw repeated over and over was the seeming invincibility of the Islamic houses of prayer known as mosques. Arain said more than 90 percent of the people in Indonesia are Muslim. He had many examples among his photos that showed an area destroyed by the waves of tsunami.
“The only building left was the mosque,” Arain said. “Some of these mosques were built in the 12th century. I saw hundreds of Mosque which are all safe.”
Many of the people of Indonesia and those who have come to their aid raise the question of whether it could have been divine intervention that saved the mosque.