LHOKNGA, Indonesia — For five days, the three friends walked across a 95-mile wasteland of death and destruction.
Living on coconuts, cassava and unopened noodle packets they found along the way, they hiked along the west coast of Sumatra through 150 villages that had been reduced to rubble by Sunday's massive earthquake and tsunami.
They swam across 15 rivers where bridges had been washed away. They passed more bodies than they could count, including some that had lain in the tropical sun for so long they had burst.
But for five days there was one thing they didn't see: another living person.
On Friday, Nurdin Mohammed, 30, Abidin Zainal, 30, and Imran Burhan, 23, swam across their final river and arrived in Lhoknga, a coastal village on the northwestern tip of Sumatra. Lhoknga also was obliterated by the tsunami, but from there it was just a few short miles by car to their home village on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, the Aceh provincial capital.
"I just want to go home," Mohammed said.
The account of the trek by the three construction workers painted a picture of destruction so severe that all the survivors appeared to have fled their villages along the coast for safety in the steep hills above the shore.
The west coast of the Indonesian island is so difficult to reach that authorities still are uncertain how many people have died. The death toll in Indonesia stands at more than 80,000, but officials estimate that it might reach 100,000, including 30,000 in Banda Aceh.
In some parts of Sumatra's west coast that rescue workers reached, three-quarters of the population was wiped out. In the village of Calang, where the three laborers worked and began their trek, only 20 of the 400 people survived, they said.
Mohammed said he survived by grabbing onto a durian tree as the waves rolled in.
Although the pace of rescue operations and food distribution has picked up over the last few days, the trio said they did not see any sign of aid workers along the coast.
"I didn't see anyone alive in five days of walking," Mohammed said.
Some victims have criticized the Indonesian military for the slow pace of aid distribution and its initial hesitation to work with some foreign donors.
And Friday, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said that U.S. aid was taking too long. "We received many condolences but not yet enough in kind," he told reporters during a stop in Banda Aceh.
The destruction in Lhoknga, about 10 miles west of Banda Aceh, illustrates the power of the quake and tsunami along the west coast.
Nearly every building was obliterated, leaving only the foundation and rubble. At a village military post, six of the 300 soldiers survived. In all, only about 200 of the 1,000 residents survived.
On Friday, resident Sabari Mohammed Ali came back for the first time since he lost his wife and daughter in the tsunami.
Ali, who ran a small canteen at the beach selling rice dishes, said he was at the beach when the quake hit. He quickly went home and brought his 16-year-old daughter, Nina, to the beach.
Soon, he noticed the water suddenly recede and expose the coral reef. It was strange, he said, but he didn't know that was the sign a tsunami was coming. Moments later he saw a wave in the distance. When it smashed into the reef with huge force, he realized the family was in trouble.
He and his wife, Hafni, their son, Surya, 9, and Nina all jumped on his motorbike and tried to outrun the wave.
But there were so many people trying to escape by the road that he could not drive quickly enough. The wave caught them when they had gone more than two miles. He was able to push his son onto the roof of a house, but he could not get back to his wife or daughter.
"Everybody says it's the end of the world," he said. "I don't know what the future is. I have nothing left except one boy and one set of clothes."