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Banda Aceh: One Year Later

I'm Barry Petersen and this Letter from Asia comes from Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

Of course you expected this reporter to be standing in the middle of devastation. Well, let me share a little known secret: a portion of Banda Aceh was literally wiped out by the tsunami, but a large part of the city was not…and that has made all the difference in the recovery.

TV news didn't show the Banda Aceh that was untouched because when the tsunami hit, this wasn't the story.

But the fact that so much of the city survived, including the downtown, the airport and roads from outside, meant short term aid got here quickly.

Paul Dillon works for the International Organization for Migration…an agency that was among the first on the scene.

Click here to read Barry Petersen's Reporter's Notebook on this story.

"Certainly the fact that main airport at Banda Aceh is some distance from the water allowed us to get in with aircraft and recovery supplies in a much more systematic way than in other parts of the province," explains Dillon.

Because it's still hard getting supplies to remote coastal areas. With roads yet to be rebuilt, everything…from food to these concrete beams used for temporary housing…must go by boat to areas where nothing was left standing.

There is no end of sadness here…90-thousand people in Banda Aceh alone died when the tsunami roared through…but for those who lived, the fact that there was still a functioning city meant there were places to flee.

The lucky found new homes with friends or relatives. The not so lucky are still living as they were in the day after the tsunami…70-thousand remain homeless, living in tents.

One woman told me, "It's uncomfortable."

Think of it…a year in a space smaller than the average one car garage, leaky when it rains, blistering hot in the equatorial sun.

But there is economic growth…new supermarkets and restaurants…the internet cafes are still here. The newly revitalized economy is, oddly enough, fueled by the very disaster that almost brought Banda Aceh to its knees.

Now the rebuilding is well underway. There are thousands of new jobs in construction, there is work everywhere you look.

That means money is circulating, people are back shopping at the markets.

Do not, by any stretch of the imagination, think the worst is over. Rebuilding will take five or ten more years. But a year can be truly be said: Things are looking up.

CBS News correspondent Barry Peterson is based in Tokyo and has reported on stories all over the world, including China, Nepal, Russia, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia, and the U.S.