Zuraida was on her way into town with her husband when she felt the first tremors of the earthquake that caused the 2004 tsunami.
The earthquake, reaching 9.2 on the Richter scale and lasting nearly ten minutes, was so strong that people all around were struggling to keep their balance.
Zuraida said: “Our car was shaking. We stopped and realized it was a very strong earthquake. People could not walk and everyone was holding on to each other. We decided to go home. We now thank God for that decision, as that is what saved us from the water.”
Rumble sound – like a plane
She and her husband went to Zuraida’s sister’s house where their children were already staying. Gathered in front of the house, they heard what they described as three big booming noises, followed, ten minutes later, by a rumble sound like a plane. They then felt sea water splashing on their faces like rain.
Her sister’s house was being constructed and they stood on the second floor to see what was happening.
Zuraida, a head teacher, said: “We saw the sea waters flooding the land. The water was very high and divided into three waves. Thank God the water did not reach my sister’s house, which was on higher ground. We saw the water sweeping the mosque. We did not realize then that the houses on the coast were already destroyed. We started praying and reading the Qur’an.
“Fifteen minutes later, the water started calming down and we saw so many people in the water. They were dead. Around half an hour later, we went downstairs, and the dead were everywhere. We did would we could to cover them.”
Zuraida later returned to her home, in Lamnga village in Aceh Besar. The water level there was three metres, and everything inside had been destroyed.
Schools as shelter
“In my village, it was like there was no life there. It was like it had been abandoned years ago. All the houses were damaged, debris was everywhere,” she said.
Scared and worried about what might still happen in the aftershocks, Zuraida and her family went into the hills for a few nights. Four nights later she learned that her brother and his family had been killed by the tsunami; in total, they lost 31 relatives in the disaster.
After staying in the sanctuary of the hills for a week, they returned, moving to a nearby school and using the classrooms as shelter. A relative lived nearby and they used what food they could from there, dividing it between them.
Schools for learning
In January, the government called for people to report to the nearest school. The school Zuraida had worked at was destroyed so she went to Neuheun school instead. Soon, she heard that her school, Labuy, would be one of the first in the area to be rebuilt after the tsunami. The community worked with the local government to find a new site for the school, further away from the coast. Islamic Relief built the school, finishing it and handing it over in December 2005.
“Islamic Relief also gave furniture for the classrooms, teachers’ room, and library, as well as library books and training for teachers. When we first opened there were 50 pupils, now, we have 366 at the school. Ten years after the tsunami, all the children are back at school, all people are back in their homes, and things have been rebuilt,” she said.
Read more on how we responded to the tsunami.