Fearful tsunami survivors try to regain normal life
By Ed Davies
PANGANDARAN, Indonesia — Survivors of the Java coast tsunami tried to return to normal life amidst the rubble of disaster on Thursday despite aftershocks that continued to spread fear and anxiety.
Tens of thousands displaced by the disaster were housed in temporary shelters.
Officials and aid workers said the displaced were generally getting adequate care, but some refugees complained of cramped conditions and needs ranging from underwear to more tents.
“It is difficult to sleep, hot in the day and cold at night,” said 20-year-old Roffi, whose bamboo house was washed away by the huge waves that turned the beach front into rubble.
She was one of some 4,000 people in a string of camps in hills above the beach town of Pangandaran, where fishermen combed through debris, searching for nets and equipment after the tsunami crashed ashore late on Monday, killing at least 582.
Stores were re-opening in Pangandaran’s town center, largely shuttered immediately after the disaster.
But aftershocks from Monday’s 7.7 magnitude quake kept people across the vast archipelago on edge. Buildings in Jakarta and elsewhere in western Java swayed on Wednesday night from a 6.2 magnitude quake. Earlier in the day people fled Pangandaran beach pell mell in fear of another tsunami.
Many refugees remained in the hills behind the town, the hardest-hit along a 300-km (185 mile) stretch of coast seriously affected by the tsunami.
Refugees ranging from a three-week-old baby to people in their 70′s were packed into a large military tent.
Meager possessions salvaged by the refugees were spread on tent floors separated from the ground only by rattan mats.
One elderly woman said she needed underwear. Another refugee called for more bottled drinking water and tents.
Yanti, 26, who had lost her house on the beach and now sits listlessly, had an obvious request. “Of course we need houses.”
Around 55,000 people were displaced by the disaster, either because their homes were destroyed or from fear of more quakes and waves to come, while 269 people were missing and 400 injured.
The aid network in Indonesia, a vast nation of 220 million, has been stretched thin by disasters in the past 24 months.
Work is still going on at the site of the Yogyakarta earthquake in May which killed 5,000 people, and reconstruction efforts continue in Aceh province which bore the brunt of the 2004 tsunami that killed 230,000 around the Indian Ocean.
Aid officials said most of the displaced in Pangandaran appeared to have supplies for basic needs.
Health workers were inoculating people against possible disease dangers stemming from overcrowding and poor sanitation.
“In the near term, we’re focusing on open wounds and cuts to prevent serious infection,” World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Sari Setiogi said.
She said that overall, however, “local medical operations appeared to have things in hand.”
“The situation is getting better, but we are seeing infections,” Indonesian air force doctor Erri Supra told Reuters as he treated a man with a badly infected arm in a tent next to Pangandaran’s main mosque where many took shelter.
Bodies were still being recovered from rubble along the shore on Thursday, as authorities faced fresh questions on why people were not warned ahead of the killer waves despite efforts to set up international early alert systems after the 2004 tsunami.
The Jakarta Post said a teletext message went to government officials a few minutes before the waves struck — too little time for the warnings to be relayed to the public.
Indonesia’s 17,000 islands sprawl along a belt of intense volcanic and seismic activity, part of what is called the Pacific “Ring of Fire.”
A group of Indonesians told a startled President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday they had no idea how to react if a tsunami headed their way.
“This should not happen,” he said when residents of Java’s west coast town of Anyer told him they were clueless about what to do if a tsunami warning was issued.
Yudhoyono took office shortly before the December 2004 tsunami. After that disaster, he instructed all top local officials to issue tsunami-preparedness guidelines.
“If it has not been carried out, I remind all regional government officials all over Indonesia,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Diyan Jari, Achmad Sukarsono and Yoga Rusmana in JAKARTA)