Tsunami 2004: How 'Noah's Ark' saved 59 lives

Fifty-nine people in Aceh, Indonesia, survived the devastating Asian tsunami of 2004 when a fishing boat was hurled onto their rooftop – they climbed in and escaped the devastation, eating coconuts that drifted by.

In the village of Lampulo, in the Indonesian province of Aceh, 59 survivors of the 2004 Asian tsunami are reminded daily of their salvation: a 100-foot fishing boat swept inland by the raging floodwaters and flung on top of a two-story house.

Five years on, the wooden boat – nicknamed “Noah’s Ark” by the locals – remains lodged on the roof, a powerful symbol of the ferocity of nature. Drawing a trickle of curious visitors, it has become a memorial to the disaster, which killed up to 170,000 people in Aceh and left more than 600,000 people homeless.

Next door lives Mujiburrizal. When the tsunami struck, he and his family sought refuge on the second floor of the adjacent house. In water up to their necks, they embraced, prayed and said their goodbyes. Then the boat came flying through the air and, with a sound like a thunderclap, crashed to a halt on top of the building.

“At first … it looked like it was going to smash into us,” Mujiburrizal recalls. “Suddenly it turned around and landed next to us. All the people climbed in. Among them was a three-month-old baby and one woman 85 years old. I was the last to get in. I had to haul myself up with a rope, because there was no one left behind me to push.”

From their vantage point above the swirling waters, the boat’s 59 occupants saw death and destruction all around. They tried to throw ropes to people, but without success. Then they began to worry about themselves, fearing the crowded boat might topple off its perch.

“We decided to sit in a certain position to make it more stable,” says Mujiburrizal. “We also tied a lot of empty jerry cans together, so we could use them as a flotation device in case another wave came.”

There was no food or water on board, but after several hours a bunch of coconuts floated past – enough for everyone to eat and drink. After seven hours, the frightened survivors climbed down. Today, they still wonder at their good fortune.

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