A Toxic Killing Machine

Banda Aceh — To call this a wall of water is to understate what it really was. We forget that it was first an earthquake. Some of the damage in Banda Aceh looks to be the result of an earthquake. Pancaked buildings and twisted minarets on mosques, where water did not reach, tell of the initial shock when the earth moved.

Following
that, the water raced across the ocean floor at 400 miles an hour, scientists
say. That’s four times more force than the winds of a Florida
hurricane.

As it came ashore it
raised up and became a wall of water, and more. It sucked up chunks of
concrete, automobiles, trucks, railroad cars, shards of plate glass, steel beams
from buildings and tin roofing sheets. It was no wall of water. It was a toxic
killing machine.

I mention this,
not to cause more grief among the afflicted, nor to shock the kind readers of
this blog; but to point out that this was a traumatizing event the likes of
which we don’t have experience to
comprehend.

I’ve seen people so
traumatized and grief-stricken that they cannot articulate what they have been
through. I’ve heard others say they still can’t believe what has happened.
They hope to wake up and find it was all a bad dream. I’ve seen still others
who can’t even find words right now to
talk.

Every displaced person has a
story, each dramatic and heart-rending. The trauma will continue here long
after the news people have gone, and long after the crisis phase has ended.
This is an event that has changed lives
forever.

And it will take
generations to restore the land and re-build the physical damage. How long it
will take to heal the damaged lives is anyone’s
guess.

Words of sympathy seem almost
out of place because they can’t match the depth of the trauma. How can we say
anything meaningful to a mother who has lost her entire family? To the child
left alone? To the father who tried to save his son, lost his grip and will
never see him again?

These are the
stories. And it seems to me best to just be present with people right now
because words fail. But presence also speaks. Presence says someone cares,
listens, reaches out. In this there is some consolation. Not enough, to be
sure, but some.

The trauma will
continue to affect people, probably for the remainder of their lives. As Paul
Dirdak, head of United Methodist Committee on Relief points out, some will want
to return to their former homes. Others will not. Some will require the
presence of another to simply stand with them the first time they go back to the
place where this trauma began.

Of
course people are resilient and they will go on. But how could anyone who has
gone through this nightmare not be haunted by terrible memories? And, how can
any sleep in peace free of the trauma created by this horrific machine? It was
so much more than a wall of water.

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