Tsunami warn­ing to Ki­wis

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By EMMA WHITTAKER

ROZANA Lee isn’t sell­ing her work or look­ing for crit­i­cal ac­claim – she only hopes Tsunami Hour will save lives.

The Art­sta­tion ex­hi­bi­tion is based on her own tragic ex­pe­ri­ence of the 2004 Box­ing Day tsunami that killed hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple, in­clud­ing her mother, when it struck Asia.

‘‘When there is a warn­ing here in New Zealand peo­ple go to the beach and go swim­ming.

‘‘I think ‘ how stupid’ but I can un­der­stand be­cause if I hadn’t had this ex­pe­ri­ence I would also think ‘oh it’s prob­a­bly noth­ing’ as well.’’

Mrs Lee’s home­town is in In­done­sia’s Aceh prov­ince which is al­most at the epi­cen­tre of the nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.

She was in Sin­ga­pore at the time liv­ing with her hus­band and two chil­dren.

Her fa­ther Karimun and brother Rudy who were still in Aceh sur­vived, but her mother Rosna was killed.

Rosna, Rudy and his wife Irene were at home when the 9.3 mag­ni­tude earth­quake that caused the tidal wave started.

‘‘No­body knew what was hap­pen­ing. It was an earth­quake so they thought they should get out­side.’’

When the ground was fi­nally still af­ter 10 min­utes Mrs Lee’s fam­ily gath­ered in the street with their neigh­bours.

In less than half an hour they looked up to see a grey wall of water ap­proach­ing.

‘‘Peo­ple started shout­ing and then ev­ery­one started to run. They didn’t know what it was. You can’t out­run water but it is hu­man na­ture.’’

The Catholic fam­ily was head­ing to a mosque 500 me­tres from its home that saved the lives of hun­dreds be­cause it was on high ground.

At 63 Rosna couldn’t keep up so she and her son clung des­per­ately to a tree as the water rose.

‘‘My mum just said start pray­ing’.

‘‘Then the water got higher, their hands lost grip and they were swept away.’’

Irene and Rudy caught an­other tree but Rosna dis­ap­peared.

Mrs Lee’s fa­ther Karimun saw the dis­as­ter un­fold from the beach.

‘‘He was with his friends and they saw this wave that was as high as the clouds.

‘‘They didn’t know what it was but luck­ily one was a fish­er­man and sensed some­thing was wrong.’’

The group piled into a van and drove to safety.

The first Mrs Lee heard of the event was on the tele­vi­sion news.

‘‘It was Box­ing Day and we were all out shop­ping.

‘‘One of my broth­ers called

‘let’s and said there was an earth­quake and I thought ‘that’s nor­mal’, we have quite a lot of them there.

‘‘When we switched on the TV there was all this news about the tsunami but no news about Aceh,’’ she says.

When Mrs Lee fi­nally ar­rived in Aceh three days later she helped in the search for Rosna but like so many oth­ers her body was not re­cov­ered.

Be­cause of that she is not recorded as one of the dead.

‘‘Dur­ing the clean-up they used huge dig­gers to move the de­bris, there was no iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

‘‘Many peo­ple were just dumped into mass graves,’’ Mrs Lee says.

‘‘She might have been swept into the ocean or she might be in one of those graves.

‘‘I al­ways think maybe she was knocked un­con­scious and she can’t re­mem­ber who she is and maybe she is alive.’’

Mrs Lee is hop­ing Tsunami Hour will help Auck­lan­ders to take tsunami warn­ings more se­ri­ously.

‘‘My mother al­ways be­lieved if you can help peo­ple then you should. If I can make peo­ple un­der­stand more through the ex­hi­bi­tion I think she would be happy.

‘‘In Aceh they didn’t know what it was. There was no warn­ing. If you un­der­stand what it is you have a much bet­ter chance of sur­vival. Min­utes mat­ter,’’ she says.

Mrs Lee moved to New Zealand with her Kiwi hus­band three years ago.

She says the tsunami made her re-eval­u­ate her life and was the cat­a­lyst for giv­ing up a 15-year ca­reer in bank­ing to paint full time.

‘‘I’d al­ways liked paint­ing and draw­ing but in Asia peo­ple would say ‘ no get a proper job’.

‘‘Paint­ing has helped me a lot. Th­ese are my painful mem­o­ries,’’ she says.

Photo: JA­SON OX­EN­HAM

Painful mem­o­ries: A por­trait of Rozana Lee’s mother who died in the 2004 Box­ing Day tsunami is one of the cen­tral paint­ings in her aware­ness ex­hi­bi­tion Tsunami Hour.

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