MALINGGEI ISLAND, Indonesia – The only sounds on Malinggei island (search) are the rustling of palm trees and the howling of dogs fighting off starvation by eating the corpses of those killed by the tsunami more than a week ago.
Malinggei's 500 human inhabitants either died or evacuated.
The walls of water took a similar toll on dozens of other islands that make up the Aceh chain off the northern tip of Sumatra (search), and on thousands of other seaside communities in Indonesia, where a staggering 100,000 people were feared to have been killed in the Dec. 26 disaster.
The waves devastated huge stretches of the archipelagic nation's coastline, which once supported millions of fishermen, coconut farmers and sea traders. The few people who survived will be unable to return for several years. Some officials say the scale of the destruction means many communities will be abandoned altogether.
Many survivors in the Aceh chain say they will not return home even if Indonesia's cash-strapped government and the international community make good on promises to rebuild their villages.
"There's nothing for me to go back too," said Muhammad Yusuf, who used to live on the Aceh chain's Nasi Island (search). "My island home is a wreck with too many sad memories. There is nothing to eat."
Yusuf, a 55-year-old fisherman, now lives in a makeshift camp in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, along with up to 40,000 other refugees surviving on food handouts in the city, large parts of which were also destroyed.
The tsunami, triggered by the world's largest earthquake in 40 years, struck off the west coast of Sumatra on a Sunday morning, when many people were at home or playing on the beach.
The waves cut a swathe of destruction around each of the palm-tree lined Aceh islands, and plowed into the scores of fishing hamlets in sheltered bays. Up to 4,000 of the chain's estimated 6,000 inhabitants were killed. Most were swept into the sea along with the retreating waves.
Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab, who is in Banda Aceh coordinating government relief efforts, said he thought that many tsunami survivors would choose to be relocated rather than return to devastated villagers. He said the town of Calang on Sumatra's western coast would likely be "abandoned."
"The people have had a bad experience with the tsunami," he said. "This is the situation on the coast. Sometimes islands disappear or drown, and this is part of life."
It seems unlikely that rebuilding the houses and infrastructure on the Aceh chain — which is only accessible by boat from Banda Aceh — will be a government priority.
The tsunami left Malinggei island's only village a mess of ripped up coconut trees and wrecked houses.
A single corpse lies spread-eagled on its golden sandy beach, the body largely eaten by dogs. Other stinking bodies are buried under the debris, as well as more touching reminders of its former inhabitants — a couple of school books, a children's bike and a waterlogged photo album.
Only a few of Malinggei's people survived. Four primitive shacks remain at the back of the beach where the survivors stayed until they were rescued by a government-chartered boat and brought to Banda Aceh.