Photos From Banda Aceh 2004

In the galleries and slideshows below are the original sets of photos (on film!) I took in and around Banda Aceh in the days immediately following the great 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. I arrived in Medan, North Sumatra on the evening of January 3, 2005 and entered the disaster zone on January 4th.  As such I was the first foreign scientific investigator to arrive in Banda Aceh and document the incredible destruction caused by the tsunami. My friend and fellow tsunami scientist Dr. Gegar Prasetya, at the time working for the Indonesian Government, was the first scientist on the ground in Banda Aceh. He arrived a day or two after the tsunami, but his trip was limited to the rapid assessment of the overall tsunami effects for the purposes of advising the Indonesian government. My trip was facilitated by a television film crew producing a documentary for National Geographic. It was amazing to me that when we got to Banda Aceh, the place was swarming with media. While the science community was still getting mobilized, TV news has already been there and done that.

Although I was there with a TV crew (led by Jeff Swimmer who is now a faculty member at Chapman University), my primary goal was to collect as much data as possible. I found that task to be much more daunting than I had expected. By the time the 2004 event occurred, I’d already had 10 years experience in tsunami data collection and post-event reconnaissance.  This included surveys of the devastating Papua New Guinea tsunami of 1998 and the disaster areas of Camaná, Peru following the earthquake of June 23, 2001.  However, none of that prepared me for what I encountered in Banda Aceh and the northwest coast of Sumatra. The fact that I was working alone and with equipment that was just not up to the task severely limited what I was able to accomplish.  Nevertheless, I was able to record a wide array of tsunami effects including flow depths, flow directions and maximum water levels over a relatively large area around Banda Aceh. From this data I was able to guide and assist several other researchers who visited the area in the subsequent weeks and months. I was also able to publish several research papers based on these surveys.

In the years since the 2004 tsunami I have continued to work extensively in tsunami research and consulting. This has included several post-tsunami field surveys, various research projects and tsunami hazard assessments for government and industry. I also recently returned to Banda Aceh in March 2013 as part of another National Geographic documentary looking at how the city had changed in the nearly 10 years since the tsunami.

If you haven’t seen them yet, have a look at my ‘Then and Now’ comparison photos showing how Banda Aceh has recovered since the tsunami.


Borrero, J.C. (2005). Field Data and Satellite Imagery of Tsunami Effects in Banda Aceh, Science, V. 308, p. June 10, 2005.

Borrero, J.C. (2005). Field Survey of Northern Sumatra and Banda Aceh, Indonesia after the Tsunami and Earthquake of 26 December 2004, Seismological Research Letters V. 74, No. 3, 309 – 317, May/June 2005.

Borrero, J.C.,  C.E. Synolakis, H.M Fritz (2006) Northern Sumatra Field Survey after the December 2004 Great Sumatra Earthquake and Indian Ocean Tsunami, Earthquake Spectra, V 22, S3, June 2006, S93 – S104.

Fritz, H.M., Borrero, J.C., C.E. Synolakis, J.Yoo (2006) 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami flow velocity measurements from survivor videos, Geophysical Research Letters, V 33.

Photos: If you would like to use one of these images in a news story or publication, please contact me via email and I will arrange to send you a higher resolution file. Note: all photos are © Jose C. Borrero.

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