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Java tsunami: too scared to go home

It is two weeks since a tsunami hit Java's southern coast, but, some 10,000 people sheltering in IDP camps are still refusing to go back to their fully intact houses. As WFP's Barry Came discovered, after Indonesia's series of natural disasters, they are simply too scared to go home.

It is over two weeks since a tsunami hit Java's southern coast, but some 10,000 people sheltering in IDP camps are still refusing to go back to their fully intact houses
. As WFP's Barry Came discovered, after a series of natural disasters in Indonesia, they are simply too scared to go home.

Many admit they did not see it coming but almost everyone vows they heard it.

“It roared, like a jet plane taking off,” said Gandi, describing the ominous rumbling sound that interrupted an afternoon coffee break in a beachside café in this pretty little resort town on the southern coast of western Java.

Wall of black water

“I glanced out to sea in the direction of the noise and my heart stopped,” recalled the 30-year-old repairman. “There was a huge wall of black water rushing right at me.”

Copyright: 2006 WFP/Barry Came

Gandi with his youngest son, Arga, aged three. Although his house is intact, Gandi is too scared to take his family back.

Gandi jumped instantly to his feet and, like everyone around him, began to run. “We all knew what it was,” he said. “Everyone was screaming ‘tsunami!’. There was a lot of panic, with people falling down and stumbling over each other.”

As the massive wave, around five metres high, barreled toward Pangandaran’s palm-fringed strip of golden beach, Gandi ran to his home, 300 metres from the seashore. He quickly gathered up his wife and two young sons and continued to run, heading inland for higher ground.

Beating the odds

“The water was right behind us,” said Gandi’s wife, Sri, 29. “I had my older boy, Ifan, (aged eight) by the hand. Gandi had Arga, who’s only three, in his arms. Both the children were crying. The water started to lap around our legs. I don’t know how we got away.”

But Gandi and his family did manage to escape, beating the odds by outrunning the tsunami. They ran right through Pangandaran, crossed a belt of rice paddies behind the town and did not stop until they reached the hillside hamlet of Sukahurip, two kilometres from the sea and 400 metres above it.

A week after the tsunami struck western Java’s coast on 17 July, Gandi and his wife and children were still in Sukahurip. “We’re too scared to go home yet,” he confessed.

Quick rations

For the time being, they are camped in Sukahurip’s primary school, along with scores of others in a similar plight. All are existing on daily food rations distributed by the Indonesian Red Cross and supplied, in part, by WFP.

Copyright: 2006 WFP/Barry Came

Gandi's eldest son Ifan, aged eight, holds a packet of WFP high energy biscuits handed out in the first few days after the disaster.

WFP was quick to respond to Indonesia’s latest tsunami, dispatching two truckloads of micronutrient-enriched biscuits and noodles to the region the day after the giant waves struck a 180 kilometre stretch of Java’s southern coastline.

The same day, 6.5 tons of biscuits and 2.3 tons of noodles were distributed to 23,000 tsunami victims.

Longer term

Over the longer term, WFP is planning a one-month distribution of supplementary food aid to some 25,000 people in the six hardest-hit areas in and around Pangandaran. More than 20 of the 68 tons of food that will be required for the whole operation has already been pre-positioned in temporary warehouses in the town.

WFP’s partners in the endeavour are the local Red Cross, the Palang Merah Indonesia (PMI), who are supplying local transport and distribution of WFP emergency rations.

WFP’s aid is intended to complement ongoing government and PMI distributions of rice, noodles, cooked vegetables and other commodities, most of which are being provided in the form of hot meals by PMI field kitchens.

But the kitchens will soon close. “We’ll keep them going for two or three weeks, then reassess” said PMI Chairman Mar'ie Muhammed.

“After the kitchens close, we’ll likely provide supplementary rations for a month or so, mostly rice and noodles, maybe a little sugar and vegetable oil.”

Destroyed homes

Like PMI, WFP does not anticipate a long-term presence in the area. While the death toll has approached nearly 700, estimates of the number of people whose homes have been destroyed ranges from 10,000 to 15,000.

Another 10,000 are people like Gandi and his family, whose home is intact but who are simply afraid to return for fear of another tsunami.

Trauma

Sumarni, 33, falls into the same category. “It’s really frightening,” she said as she sat at Sukahurip school with her three-year-old son, Akmal, both munching WFP-supplied high-energy biscuits. “So many disasters; tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes; one after another. What’s next?”

Copyright: 2006 WFP/Barry Came

Like many families on Java's southern coast, Sumarni and her daughter are still recovering from the trauma of narrowly escaping the tsunami's deadly waves.

Even if her home was not damaged, Sumarna had not yet recovered from the trauma of her narrow escape. She managed to flee the tsunami onboard a becak, a tricycle rickshaw, along with her husband, her toddler son and two other children, both teenagers.

“My husband earns his living driving a becak,” said Sumarni, “but I’ve never seen him pedal so hard before.”

Toll on livelihoods

If the toll on homes and lives has been severe, it pales in comparison with wreckage inflicted on the region’s livelihoods. Tourism and fishing are the area’s prime sources of income and employment and both sectors suffered grievous losses.

The tsunami destroyed 63 hotels, 163 stores, 162 restaurants and 600 street kiosks as well as 21 fish markets and close to 2,000 fishing boats.

“It took almost everything,” complained Murtinah, 50, as she emerged from PMI-run food distribution centre in the hilltop village of Purbahayu, clutching a bag full of WFP biscuits and noodles.

Homeless

Murtinah’s house in the Fishermen’s Village just east of Pangandaran was swept away by waves, leaving homeless not only herself and her husband, Bagio, 55, but also her seven children and five grandchildren.

Even worse, it also destroyed Bagio’s fishing boat, the family’s only source of income. “Now we have no home and no way to earn enough to even feed ourselves,” said Murtinah. “I don’t know what we are going to do.”

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