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Tsunami victims still being recovered in Indonesia BANDA ACEH - The body squad has been doing its dirty, dangerous and unavoidable work here for nearly a month. Yet, every day, incredibly, there are still more victims of the Asian tsunami to be found, bagged and buried. The squad Indonesian soldiers and Red Cross volunteers gathers in the Punge neighborhood of this provincial capital. The Indonesian army says more than 17,600 bodies have been pulled from this area. The Indonesian Red Cross says more than 92,700 bodies have been found in Aceh province, the area hit hardest Dec. 26 by the earthquake and tsunami.
But with tens of thousands of people still missing here, many more bodies, slowly decomposing in 90-degree heat, remain to be found. "It's a very tiring job. It's very hard work," says Sgt. Iwan Tryanto, an artilleryman who has been doing the job since the tsunami hit. "The first time around, it's a bit gross and smelly, and sometimes it made me vomit. But then you get used to it." More than 2,000 soldiers and volunteers are engaged in the often-gruesome effort, says Eka Susila, 27, of the Indonesian Red Cross. Their work is awkward and uncomfortable. But it's crucial to restoring something approaching normal life to Banda Aceh.
In Punge, the concrete foundations that remain show where houses stood just a few feet apart. Now, for more than a mile in every direction, there is little left that is higher than a few feet off the ground. The neighborhood extends almost 2 miles inland from the sea. It was battered by waves more than 60 feet high, says Maj. Benny Suharto, who is coordinating the recovery effort here. His men pick their way across a nightmare landscape of uprooted palm trees, splintered homes, children's toys, clothing and thick mud. They peer beneath the brick and wood rubble of homes, poke sticks into pools of muddy water, and generally follow the smell of decay to their targets.
On this day, it doesn't take long to find the first victim. The dead man is naked, legs splayed, lying face down in a few inches of charcoal-colored water. Getting him into a canary yellow body bag isn't easy. After three weeks in the water, the mottled black flesh is beginning to fray. The corpse sags like rubber as Didi Siswanto, 28, an Indonesian infantryman, and Masut, 23, a Red Cross volunteer who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name, struggle to maneuver the body into the bag.
A few feet away, the pair find the remains of a boy who appears to be about 5. One of the volunteers hefts him by his T-shirt and slides him into a body bag. They intend no disrespect, but there's no way to be dainty about this task. The men wear rubber boots that end just below the knee, masks and rubber gloves. They ward off the smell of death by smoking cigarettes and sucking on menthol candies.
Most of the time, they're quiet; often, the only sound is a torn steel roof rattling in the breeze. Sometimes Tryanto tries to ward off the gloom by joking about sex and money. Approaching a house its front torn off he picks up a photo of a proud little boy wearing a cap and gown. "He's dead," he says flatly, fingering the photo for a moment before discarding it. He sits down and mixes a lemon powdered drink called Extra Joss as a breeze sweeps the boy's photo away.
Tryanto denies that the work takes an emotional toll. But at one point, he says in halting English, "Indonesia cry." When the men have finished, they carry the bodies to the side of the road. Later, an army truck will collect them on one of its twice-daily citywide sweeps and deposit them in one of several mass graves dotting Banda Aceh. The largest is on Blang Bitang road, across the street from a mosque topped with a green onion dome. Inside a deep, watery pit are about three dozen bodies shrouded in yellow, black and orange bags. Nearby, beneath the scarred soil, are countless others.
In front of this terrible scene, Yuswar Yunnis, 52, is having his picture taken to commemorate the site. An engineer, Yunnis lost six members of his family when the tsunami destroyed his single-story brick home in Punge. He has pulled 15 bodies from what's left of the building; none was that of a missing family member. Now he has come here to mourn his wife of 25 years, two grown daughters, a 7-month-old grandson, and his son-in-law. One daughter was 8 months pregnant when she died. For now, probably forever, this pit is as close as Yunnis can come to closure. "I don't know where their grave is," he says. "Probably in there somewhere is one of my family. I pray to Allah they be in heaven."


Link to related event Related event:
Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia


Posted in Earthquake @ 23 January 2005 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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