World Point of View

2004 Indian Ocean tsunami: Remembering the story 10 years on

CBC producer recounts covering the deadly tsunami amid devastation and intense humidity in Indonesia

December 26, 2014

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CBC News correspondent, Evan Solomon reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia on the devastating effects of the 2004 tsunami  9:43
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Ten years ago on Boxing Day, I was just about to sit down for a family celebration in St. Cesaire, Que., when my pager let out a sustained buzz. I immediately called the CBC’s Toronto office, and after a few minutes on the phone I returned to the dining room and announced that a huge tsunami had occurred somewhere in the Indian ocean and the loss of life and damage was catastrophic.  

As a producer/videographer for CBC News, I was asked to gear up and go to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, immediately.

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72 hours later, CBC correspondent Evan Solomon and I stood in a grassy field with camera gear and limited supplies after hitching a ride into Banda Aceh with a Singaporean military helicopter unit.

CBC videographer Eric Foss (right) inside a Singapore military helicopter on the way to to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, days after the 2004 tsunami. (Courtesy Peter Bregg)

The intense humidity and the surrounding devastation were beyond description.

The city and immediate area had been wiped out. Fishing boats, parts of homes and bloated bodies were scattered everywhere.

If that wasn’t bad enough, we had arrived in a region where fighting between the Indonesian government and the Acehnese independence movement had been a part of daily life for the past 30 years.

In the days that followed, we moved about the city and surrounding area without incident, visiting hospitals and makeshift camps set up for the thousands of homeless.

Contacts at Care Canada agreed to let us share some space on the floor of their building's foyer at night as we continued to gather video. Sleep was impossible as rescue teams and excavation crews worked around the clock.

Fortunately, the fighting we had initially worried about between government and the Acehnese rebels never materialized. In fact, the tragedy of the tsunami and its aftermath would eventually lead the two sides to a peace agreement a year later.

CBC News teams work in challenging environments for many of the news stories they cover. The experience in Banda Aceh was certainly one of the more difficult assignments I have had, but also one of the most memorable.

CBC correspondent Evan Solomon is dropped in Banda Aceh after a three hour helicopter ride from Medan, Indonesia, after the Dec. 2004 tsunami. (Courtesy Peter Bregg)

A region that only days before had been engulfed in civil war was now working together with the help of international military and NGOs to bring needed supplies to displaced residents. The process, as we discovered in our story, wasn’t without incident.

But it did highlight what humanitarian aid and a worldwide response can do in the early days of a natural disaster.

Watch our feature story that originally aired on CBC News in January 2004.

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