Tsunami warning to Kiwis
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.
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.