Marisa Buchanan/NBC
Jan. 4: Banda Aceh is filled with incongruous scenes, like this boat in a parking lot miles from the ocean.
By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 1/4/2005 7:42:29 PM ET 2005-01-05T00:42:29

It's impossible to know where to begin when everything is destroyed — in a city where there are boats, miles from where they belong, including a commercial fishing vessel in the parking lot of a downtown hotel.

Our local guide is Ashari. He ran from the tsunami with his five-day-old baby under his arm, but he's troubled because his sister has not been heard from and is presumed dead. One-third of the population was killed in an instant when the Indian Ocean filled the streets.

In the central part of downtown it is still very much a state of emergency. Nine days ago, when the water came in from the sea, a river that normally runs out to the Indian Ocean swamped one of the primary bridges, at over 30 feet. It is said that more than 1,000 bodies clogged the waters beneath the bridge and they are still pulling bodies out today, nine days later.

A few feet away, on the surface of the bridge, an air drop of rice from a U.S. helicopter provides proof that while some aid is getting through, some parcels miss their mark.

It's a haunting city now — the dead are everywhere. There’s so much death that it's changed the behavior of the living.

For example, butcher shops are selling meat at a brisk pace — it's usually considered too expensive — the staple diet and number one industry here is fish. But now suspicious locals believe the fish are suspect because they are mixed with the dead in the waters around the island.

Everything here has turned bizarre, spooky, and surreal.

Marisa Buchanan/NBC
Jan. 4: The disposal of bodies in Banda Aceh was too much for NBC's fixer, Ashari, to bear.
Next to a boat on land, a truck comes to pick up bodies, in bags, that are still along every street downtown.

But one scene, — the routine, almost rough handling of the bodies — is too much for Ashari, who can't stand the thought that his sister may have been among them. She could be anywhere in this city of dead bodies and debris.

“I don’t know where my lovely, my lovely sister [is], you know. I always remember for her. I don’t know where [she is]. Maybe, I cannot find her again,” he cries.

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