Families here are reeling at Indonesia disasters
Seattle Times staff reporter
How to help
World Vision Locally based group expects to help about 25,000 in the area. Donations may be made at www.worldvision.org or by calling 888-562-4453.
CARE To donate: 800-521-2273; www.care-international.org
Mercy Corps To donate: 888-256-1900; www.mercycorps.org
Red Cross/Red Crescent To donate: http://donate.ifrc.org/
Recent disasters in Indonesia
Since the December 2004 tsunami that killed more than 160,000 people in Indonesia, the country has been beset by one disaster after another.
Feb. 1: Flooding rivers submerge parts of Jakarta, killing 57 and displacing 450,000.
Jan. 1: Indonesian plane carrying 102 crashes off Sumatra.
Dec. 29, 2006: Ferry sinks in Java Sea, killing more than 400.
Dec. 23, 2006: Floods kill more than 100 and displace more than 400,000 on Sumatra.
July 17, 2006: Earthquake triggers tsunami off Java, killing at least 600.
June 19, 2006: Floods and mudflows kill up to 300 in Sulawesi province.
May 27, 2006: Earthquake on Java kills at least 5,800 and injures 36,000.
May 2006: Explosions from Mount Merapi on Java force 15,000 villagers to flee.
May 2006: Mud eruption at a drilling shaft on Java displaces more than 11,000.
Jan. 4, 2006: 200 killed in a landslide on Java.
Sept. 4, 2005: Jet crashes in Medan, killing 149.
March 28, 2005: More than 900 killed and tens of thousands left homeless in an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra.
Source: The Associated Press
With each new disaster in his home country of Indonesia, Adron Yusuf becomes a little more hardened, a little more stoic.
Mudslides, airplane crashes, sinking ferries and floods — the catastrophes since the 2004 tsunami have occurred in dizzying succession, exacting a devastating human toll.
With each tragedy, Yusuf's thoughts turn to family members still living in the Southeast Asian country — brothers and sisters in Medan and the Aceh province of Sumatra Island, and in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
"You become numb from the bad news," said Yusuf, a 49-year-old webmaster who works in Everett and lives with his wife and children in South Seattle.
"It can really get depressing. You start to think, 'Something is wrong here.' How much can one country take?"
Mother Nature has been particularly unkind in recent years to the islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago.
Since the December 2004 earthquake-spawned tsunami killed more than 160,000 people in Indonesia, a series of natural and human-made catastrophes has killed thousands more.
Just last month, an Indonesian airplane carrying 102 people went down in stormy weather. This month, the worst flooding in years submerged more than half the city of Jakarta, killing 57 people and at its worst point displacing 450,000 of the city's some 12 million residents.
A United Nations report said Indonesia recorded more deaths in 2006 from natural disasters than any other country. Scientists warn rougher days may be ahead as global warming lifts sea levels and triggers more frequent and deadlier storms.
Johara Boukaa, a disaster expert at the global relief agency World Vision, said these tragedies have occurred with such frequency that victims haven't had time to grieve. "And that can be destructive," she said.
"People become disconnected from their feelings — it makes them distracted. ... They can become aggressive."
Anita Sulaiman, 37, who was born in Jakarta, grew up in Singapore and now works as a linguistic services manager at Swedish Medical Center, said the constant bad news can be paralyzing for those observing helplessly from far away. To cope, she's become stoic, she said.
And so, it appears, have many of her family and friends in Indonesia.
An uncle in Jakarta, who had been largely untouched by previous disasters, e-mailed images to her of the damage to his two-story house now under 8 feet of water.
"What was interesting was his tone of voice," Sulaiman said. "He said, 'Ah yea, we had this flood,' like it's not a huge thing that happened. 'Now it's happened to me. We've now been disastered.' "
The Rev. Kolinus Buntaran, pastor of the Indonesian Presbyterian Church in Seattle, said while those in his congregation have not had family members directly affected by the floods, there's an uneasy feeling about all the tragedies that have befallen their country.
"People question: 'Oh my goodness, why are there so many disasters occurring in our country?' And, of course, no one knows the answer."
The topic has become a common theme at a monthly fellowship meeting that draws about 150 or so area residents with Indonesian ties. The 2000 census estimated the greater Seattle area is home to about 1,800 people who were born in Indonesia. Seattle's sister city, Surabaya, is Indonesia's second-largest city and port.
Many say family and friends have become resigned to their lot.
Many are angry at the government for failing to build up the country's infrastructure to minimize the impact of these disasters.
Yusuf, with support from the local community and along with a group of friends, has helped to rebuild a school in Aceh that was destroyed by the tsunami. He said he tries to help people there put the disasters into perspective.
"I tell them that, here, we've had problems, too — bad wind and snowstorms and rain. I tell them about the tornadoes in Florida. I try to lift their spirit, to let them know it's not just happening to them."
With a population of 220 million, Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country and the most populous Muslim-majority nation.
And there are those — including some of the country's Islamic hardliners — who believe the unrelenting disasters are a punishment from God.
Yusuf, like many of the Indonesians in Seattle who've heard that theory from family and friends, dismisses it, describing leaders who espouse such beliefs as Indonesia's version of America's Jerry Falwell.
He said he tries to explain the science behind some disasters — how deforestation from years of war exacerbates the flooding problem and why the country's location makes it vulnerable to major earthquakes, and possibly another tsunami.
"I tell them not to build by the water, to stay away from the water," Yusuf said.
Sulaiman, who is scheduled to travel to the region in two weeks, said even before the tsunami, Indonesians were used to yearly flooding.
She remembers one of the last big floods, when her cousin's then-3-year-old daughter asked if she could go out to play in the floodwaters, which she called the "chocolate pool."
And she remembers, too, in 2001 when she took newly purchased furniture to family members living in Makassar.
"Almost immediately there was a huge flood, and everything I bought was damaged and destroyed. So it's been happening for a long time. It's just that right now it just feels like an onslaught."
Indonesians talk about the closeness families share; someone as distant as a third or fourth cousin is considered close kin.
In that way, they look out for one another, many here say. Those displaced by flooding or an earthquake, but with surviving neighbors, families and friends, aren't homeless very long.
Yusuf recalls that following the tsunami, his sister in Medan took in the two young children of a friend who had been killed — sheltering them and paying for them to go to school until their surviving parent could get back on her feet.
"People take care of each other," he said. "I think that's their way of coping."
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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