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Jakarta Post

‘I just want to bring them home’: Tsunami victims' families, survivors cope with their loss

  • Vela Andapita

    The Jakarta Post

Pandeglang, Banten   /   Wed, December 26, 2018   /   05:55 pm
‘I just want to bring them home’: Tsunami victims' families, survivors cope with their loss President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo visits survivors of the Sunda Strait tsunami taking shelter in a futsal field in Labuhan, Pandeglang, Banten on Dec. 24. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

Since a tsunami hit western coastal areas of Java island, medical staff in Berkah Palembang General Hospital (RSUD) in Kaduhejo district in Pandeglang, Banten have worked around the clock to tend to the dozens of dead bodies and dozens of injured people. As of Tuesday, 84 dead bodies had been brought in while more than 80 injured people were receiving medical treatment there.

It was 7 a.m. on Monday when Kastro and his wife were trying to bring home the bodies of Kastro’s little sister along with her youngest child. With swollen eyes and a puffy face, Kastro and his wife described their loved ones to a police officer from the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team.

“She had a mark on her hips,” Kastro said describing his niece as the officer took notes.

“My sister’s husband is an employee of PLN [state-owned electricity company]. On Sunday, I saw that my sister posted on her Facebook that they were in Tanjung Lesung Resort to attend the event,” he told The Jakarta Post.

Tanjung Lesung Resort, where some companies – including PLN – hold year-end employee gathering events, is one of the most affected areas, hence hundreds of tourists were victims. It was the location of the viral video showing the moment the tsunami hit during the performance of pop band Seventeen.

“Once I knew about the disaster, I kept my eyes on the TV until finally my sister’s name appeared on the fatality list. And then I rushed here,” the resident of Karawaci, Tangerang, said.

“Her husband and two other kids are safe and now in a hospital in Serang. The police have allowed me to take my sister but not my niece, I don’t understand why. I just want to bring them home, dress them up, then pray and bury them properly,” Kastro added in a weak voice.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the death toll had reached 429. The figure is likely to continue rising as search-and-rescue teams keep finding bodies in the water and washed up on beaches. As many as 154 are missing, 1,485 injured and 16,082 people are displaced from their houses.

In popular beach Carita, also in Pandeglang, 43-year-old Ugi could not think straight while doing her job as a receptionist of the Sunset View Hotel. She kept working even though her house in Kampung Sambolo, only two kilometers from the hotel, was destroyed by the tsunami on Saturday night.

“I was here working when the tsunami occurred,” Ugi said, noting that the area around the hotel was safe because there was a sea wall some kilometers from the beach.

“My husband called and told me not to come home because our house was damaged by the tsunami. I rushed home anyway, but he and my daughter were nowhere to be found. Later on I found that they were safe in my brother’s house far away from the beach,” she told The Jakarta Post.

Ugi decided to go back to the hotel, stay there and continue working, although she was worried about her family. 

The hotel has 37 rooms, all of which are usually full during the Christmas and New Year holiday.

“But right now the only people staying here are police officers and rescue personnel,” she said.

In Labuan district in Pandeglang, a few kilometers away from Carita, a shelter was established in a futsal field where residents of Kampung Pangusepan and Kampung Kebon Cau stayed for a while. 

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo paid a short visit to that shelter on Tuesday afternoon.

“I got books from Mr. President,” nine-year-old Fatir cheerfully told his grandmother, Eneh, as he handed over the books he had just received to Eneh.

“Our house is inundated with seawater, 1 meter high. Fatir insists on going back home, he said he wanted to swim in the flood with his friends,” Eneh said, laughing a little bit despite her worries.

Kampung Pangusepan has always flooded every time there is a tidal wave, Eneh said. The residents usually stay and wait until the water recedes because the highest flood was usually only around 50 centimeters high. 

Eneh’s neighbor, Aan, said this time it was different, the wave was stronger and the flood was too high for them to stay in their kampung. The tsunami also happened very fast, he said.

“Not only were our houses engulfed, but most of our belongings were damaged and washed away by the seawater. We have nothing else but the clothes on our body,” Aan said.

He could forget about his loss for a brief time during Jokowi’s visit; he posed for a wefie with the president and he was happy for the rare chance. Nevertheless, he doesn't want to go home just yet. “I’m worried about another tidal wave,” he said. (evi)