Looting Follows Tsunami’s Rampage
Business is coming back to Banda Aceh, a city hit hard by the tsunami, and not all of it fits into neat moral boxes. On Diponegoro Street, at what was once the commercial heart of this city, a muddy man named Husnaidi, 30, picked through the debris ejected from the shops first by the tsunami and then by the looters. He knew that what he took – mostly bits of metal and plastic he could sell as scrap – was not his. But he said he had no choice in order to survive after the wave carried away his home, his wife, his only child. “If I could not collect these things, I don’t know what I would do,” he said.
Down the street, a merchant worked to empty his clothing shop of everything that was salvageable, before the looters finished the job for him. He was only partly sympathetic. “The owners may still be alive,” said the merchant, Nasruddin, 28, who like many people here has only one name. “Why are people looting? Just because they don’t have a home doesn’t give them the right to steal.”
The wave that changed so much here has also changed economic life, and in complicated ways. Scrap dealers are thriving, as people rifle through rubble often only just before bulldozers remove the mucky debris forever. A market stall in the devastated city of Meulaboh, south of here, sells scrounged household goods like pots and pans. Landlords are demanding wildly inflated rents from the rich army of foreign aid workers and journalists.
Such moral difficulties here these days were on display at a roadside scrap shop not far from the police station. A man named Sulaiman, 39, who said he lost 7 of his 13 immediate relatives, including his mother and several siblings, offered a scrap dealer an iron gate that he said once protected his motorcycle repair shop. Mr. Sulaiman said he would never pick up something that was not his. “It shouldn’t be forgiven,” he said. “We have already been through a disaster, and people are making another disaster” by selling other people’s property, he said. The scrap dealer, Ibrahim, offering about $7 for the gate, chimed in. “It’s forbidden,” he said, using a word that connotes a sin against Islam.
Sad, but hardly surprising. Looting follows natural disasters, power outages, and even sports championships even in the wealthy United States.