WASHINGTON –– A double dose of natural disasters led Catholic agencies working in Indonesia to mount several efforts to provide emergency services to victims.
The disasters – a magnitude 7.7 undersea earthquake Oct. 25 that triggered a tsunami that swamped coastal villages in the remote Mentawai Islands off of the west coast of Sumatra and the eruption of a volcano on Java beginning Oct. 26 – claimed more than 400 lives and displaced thousands of people.
Authorities reported the tsunami killed 408 people and that at least 400 people remained missing Oct. 29, four days after 10-foot waves washed away homes and other structures up to 2,000 feet inland.
“Entire villages were swept away,” Xaverian Fr. Silvano Zulian, a missionary priest who has lived in the Mentawai Islands for more than 30 years, told MISNA, the missionary news service. “The toll is destined to rise by the hour.”
Local priests and women religious were among the first to reach the affected communities, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.
“We came (to the villages) with whatever we had, especially medicine because there was no hospital,” said Fr. Fransiskus Xaverius Wio Hurint Pei from the Assumption of Mary Church in Sikakap. He was accompanied by Charity of Jesus and Mary, Mother of Good Help sisters.
The priest said he helped bury dead victims. “It was very sad. … bodies were scattered,” he said. “Survivors are having problems taking care of themselves.”
Fr. Agustinus Mujihartono, head of the Padang diocesan Commission for Socio-Economic Development, said the church’s Caritas network sent four volunteers to help collect information from survivors and distribute relief supplies.
High seas slowed the delivery of aid from Sumatra, but cargo ships carrying workers, emergency supplies and temporary housing material began arriving Oct. 28 at South Pegai, the southernmost and nearest island to the epicenter, MISNA reported.
Catholic Relief Services met with representatives of Caritas Switzerland, Secours Catholique/Caritas France and officials from the Padang Diocese Oct. 27 to discuss a coordinated response.
Meanwhile, the Semarang Archdiocese sent workers and emergency supplies to assist evacuees sheltered in makeshift tents following three eruptions of Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano.
The government reported 34 deaths. An estimated 50,000 people have been displaced by the eruptions.
“We set up soup kitchens at every community and an aid post in our parish compound,” Fr. Petrus Sadjiyana of Assumption of Mary Church told UCA News.
Workers helped distribute basic necessities and drinking water to about 4,000 displaced people, the priest said. Caritas Indonesia also assisted evacuees.
CRS sent 2,000 blankets, 2,000 sarongs and 800 tarps to assist up to 10,000 evacuees. The aid was being sent through the Semarang Archdiocese.
The eruption in central Java claimed at least 28 lives and forced thousands of people to flee despite the government’s advance warning to evacuate.
Suryani told Catholic News Service that people were reluctant to leave the area because they were tending their farms and feared abandoning their livelihood.
Joining the aid effort were about 60 college students from nine university groups, including the Union of Catholic University Students and the Association of Muslim University Students. They gathered at Jakarta’s Hotel Indonesia Square Oct. 28 asking people to donate money for disaster survivors.
“We want to show people that we do not just criticize the government, but we can also help the victims,” said Stefanus Gusma, chairman of the Catholic student group.