Heartache for Indonesian’s tsunami survivors

2010-10-28 09:21

Exhausted, confused and hungry, 20-year-old Indonesian housewife Chandra trudged barefoot through her tsunami-wrecked village in a desperate search for her missing baby.

“I sifted through rubble, looked in collapsed houses and in the temporary shelters, but there’s no sign of him,” she said, tears welling up.

“I know he’s dead, but I keep praying he’s still alive. I’m so tired. I’ve not eaten for two days. I have no appetite.”

Chandra was one of the survivors after a huge wave triggered by a devastating 7.7 magnitude earthquake on Monday ravaged the remote Mentawai islands off the west coast of Sumatra, killing 343 people and leaving 338 missing.

Disaster response officials said bodies were being found on beaches and coastal areas in the Mentawai island chain, which took the full force as the tsunami washed away entire villages.

Chandra said she was separated from her husband and six-month-old son as they were trying to flee the tsunami when it hit their coastal village in North Pagai island, one of the two worst-hit in the Mentawai group.

“I survived because a coconut tree fell and kept me from being swept away. My survival was a miracle from God,” she said.

Her husband’s body was found by locals and buried along with dozens of other villagers in a mass grave yesterday.

The tsunami had flattened their village of Muntei Baru Baru, destroying more than 70 mostly wooden houses, a school and a church. Left behind were skeletons of houses, fallen trees and a fetid mud pool.

Survivors said they had almost no warning that the 3m wall of water was bearing down on them, raising questions about whether an early alert system laid down after the 2004 Asian tsunami had failed.

An AFP photographer who came to North Pagai aboard an aid ship saw hundreds of villagers being treated at a medical clinic, many requiring stitches to open cuts suffered as they were tossed around in the roiling sea.

Like Chandra, dozens of villagers are still trying to come to terms with the tragedy.

Many scrabbled through rubble to look for missing relatives while others, dazed by the disaster, sat under coconut trees awaiting news from rescuers.
Chandra said she did not know what the future held.

“I’ve no intention to rebuild my house. I now live alone. I don’t know what to do,” she said.

“Whatever happens, I’m not going to leave this village. This place is the burial place for my husband and baby.”

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