Earthquake Survivor Returns Home to Bantul

Twenty-year-old Dewi is home.

It isn’t much, but her elated relatives have cleared out a patch of ground beside the ruined remains of the family home where she will convalesce over the next few weeks.

Though badly injured in Saturday’s earthquake, the 20-year-old factory worker leapt at IOM’s offer to help her return from the hospital to Karang Nongko Jatas, a small village in Bantul district, Indonesia.

“She is a good girl,” her elder brother Dono says. “She is giving and willing to help the community and we are very happy to have her back.”

Dewi was attending to her household chores when what sounded like a low-flying airplane rattled the walls of her brick home set among verdant rice paddies.

Her entire family fled the building but the young factory worker and community volunteer was petrified, unable to move. Dono, 26, recalls seeing her framed in the doorway as the entire building collapsed around her.

Within seconds, the 6.2-magnitude earthquake leveled virtually every building in this and dozens of other villages across hundreds of square kilometers of the agricultural heartland of Java, the most populous island on the planet. The Indonesian government puts the death toll at over 6,200 and though early estimates vary, as many as 130,000 homes were either completely destroyed or badly damaged.

Though Dono and the rest of the family managed to escape, all were so seriously injured by falling debris that they were unable to dig Dewi out from beneath the demolished building. Fortunately, Indonesian soldiers arrived to release her from the rubble and transport Dewi to Sardjito hospital in Yogjakarta where she was treated for a badly broken arm and strained muscles.

Dono attended to his little sister for several days, just one patient among the hundreds recovering from their injuries in a three-level parkade attached to the hospital’s administration building. When they heard of IOM’s offer of a free drive home and medical attention, they immediately asked for help.

On Wednesday morning, IOM nurse Hermilah, who like many Indonesians only has one name, and Dono wheeled the young woman outdoors for the first time since the disaster, and a waiting vehicle provided by the Organization ferried her back to the ruined village where she was born.

Assisting in the orderly and voluntary return of medical evacuees is a core IOM mission, says senior migration physician Dr. Nenette Motus.

“As long as they are well enough it is best to get these patients out of hospitals as soon as possible,” she said. “It reduces the chances they contract an infection there and reduces the workload in these overcrowded hospitals which frees up medical staff to handle more serious cases.”

The Organization provided similar support services in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami and organized the return to Nias island of close to 600 patients treated at hospitals in Medan, North Sumatra and the USNS Mercy hospital ship following the powerful March 2005 earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra island.

IOM began its assisted return program three days after the Saturday morning earthquake in Java and by week’s end had helped more than 500 people, including family members of the injured, back to their villages.

At the request of local health officials the Organization is also identifying rooming houses and small hotels in Yogjakarta that can be used as transit centers for newly discharged patients.

“Many patients have no homes to return to or are not prepared yet to go back to their villages so they really need a safe, secure place to live while they recuperate from their injuries,” Dr. Motus said.

Medical staff in Bantul, the hardest-hit district are also identifying patients for surgery and transporting them in a fleet of 20 minivans to the US Marine mobile field hospital in an effort to relieve some of the pressure on the local hospital. A similar service is also being provided to the 60-bed field hospital opened by the Indonesian Red Cross.

Back in Karang Nongko Jatas, Dono says Dewi is still traumatized by the earthquake.

“She has difficulty sleeping at night and automatically covers her ears in fear whenever she hears a loud noise,” he says. “But she is back home where she belongs.”