Just before dawn on Wednesday, at 05.10 am West Indonesia Time on 7 December 2016, a violent earthquake registering 6.5 on the Richter scale shook the district of Pidie Jaya located at the most north eastern coast of the island of Sumatra in the province of Nangroe Aceh Darussalam (or better known as Aceh). Since the quake occurred inland and its epicenter was not at sea, it did not cause a tsunami. Nonetheless, the quake caused considerable damage to the town and to this corner of the province.
At daybreak first respondents were immediately on hand to help victims. President Joko Widodo instantly sent a senior official to Aceh to assess the damage and ensure emergency assistance. He also instructed the military to send whatever may be needed. People in the district also collected food supply and set up emergency kitchens to assist those still in shock who needed sustenance. Doctors and surgeons in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, and also from Jakarta – some 3 hours flight away - were ready to fly pormptly to the stricken area. Heavy equipment and backhoes were sent on site to rake out the rubble and save survivors. SAR (Search and Rescue) teams were instantly on location, and some 216 personnel of the military medical team were also immediately on site.
By the end of the day, more than 92 fatalities were reported, over 100 seriously injured, with hundreds more lightly injured. By nightfall many inhabitants whose homes had remained intact returned to their houses but many more remained in temporary shelters,
The province of Aceh and Indonesia as a whole was shocked and grieving.
The Ministry of Tourism also immediately sent its Crisis team to Aceh under the leadership of Harry Waluyo to assess whether any tourists were injured or any facilities damaged.
On Thursday, 8 December, Harry Waluyo reported that, - thanks be to God, - there were no injuries in the tourist areas of Aceh that include the area around the capital Banda Aceh, located 168 km from the epicenter, nor at the most northern tip of Sumatra at Pulau Weh, a popular resort for divers and yachtsmen. No tourists had checked out because of panic nor any advance bookings cancelled, while life in Aceh had returned to normal, except, of course around the stricken Pidie area itself. The Pidie district will remain under emergency status until 20 December said Aceh Governor.
Elsewhere in Aceh, beaches and dive sites remained safe and are open for tourists, confirmed Reza Pahlevi, Head of the Culture and Tourism Office of Aceh.
Flights to the airport of Banda Aceh were briefly suspended after the quake but had returned to normal at 08.0am after thorough checks, although tremors had been felt here.
Aceh receives Top Award as World’s Best Cultural Destination
Amidst this tragedy, Aceh and its people received excellent cheering news, namely that the province had just received two top awards in the World’s Best Halal Tourism Awards 2016 in Abu Dhabi, which are :
1. Aceh won the World’s Best Halal Cultural Destination 2016, and
2. The Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport at Banda Aceh won the World’s Best Airport for Halal Travellers Award.
Indonesia on the whole has succeeded to swipe 75% of all Awards, winning in 12 categories among 16 categories contended in the Halal Tourism Awards 2016.