Thursday, October 28, 2010

Java's Bantul Earthquake Revisited

I was in Bantul, Indonesia, in June 2006, few weeks after the city was struck by May 27 earthquake which happened at 5.54am.

Although the quake was felt for 57 seconds, yet more than 5,500 people were to have died of the tremor, resulting 50,000 casualties, 50,000 houses destroyed, 200,000 left homeless and almost half of them, children.  
The 6.2 magnitude shake had cracked the runway at the airport in Yogyakarta and still wasn't in use when we booked our flight, so we make do with Semarang Airport.

As we passed through roads which some had become impassable, the quake left the sight of flattened large swaths of built-up areas and roofs caved in were everywhere, many on top of sleeping inhabitants.
Electricity was already resumed when we were there.

A month after the quake, victims were still traumatised to enter their cracked houses, and many chose to stay and sleep under the makeshift blue tents.
Children were still recovering from the trauma of seeing their houses crumbled around them, amidst the tightly-knit, close bonding neighbours - the nature of village life.
For me who do not live above the world's tectonic faultlines, as  My Late Father and Forefathers  did, it is difficult to imagine and visualise what these people went through, but this is the reality for most Indonesians. Situated almost entirely on the famous 'Ring of Fire', the country, according to locals' count, has 220 active volcanoes and said to face an average of 7,000 yearly earthquakes.

Words could not express my feelings seeing the survivors gazing aimless at what the quake had left them - the horrific loss of life and stressful environment.
Their calm expressions were not without grieve, and the thoughts of those affected by the tragedy is unerasable and only prayers can sooth my disturbed emotion.
My heart goes out to those who lost their loved ones.


We went to a place where batik was made - as a matter of fact, Bantul is  famous for its batik  - 'batik cap' or 'batik tulis', the process of cultural assimilation of ancestors, the cultural values of Bantul.

Created by using wax and natural dyes from plants applied with simple tools 'tjanting' for hand drawn batik, the early recognition of batik art in Bantul helped the development of high-value national wealth and the growth of  high economic value handicraft that  becomes a great source of income.

The owner, in his 70s or early 80s, whose factory was badly affected by the earthquake, was without workers since it struck as some were dead or they were rebuilding their damaged or destroyed homes.

Not far from Bantul, Klaten experienced 95% damage, with homes constructed with mud bricks flattened.

Amidst the eerie and sombre atmosphere of post earthquake, my heart was further wrenched watching many resigned faced elderly villagers scrambling to a hilltop at sunset, to spend their nights in what they assume the safest place then - on a cemetery plot, sleeping in between the dead - among the graveyards.

The scale of every Indonesian earthquake destructions are impossible to put on Indonesians' shoulders alone. International communities are tasked too to integrate disaster preparedness and socio-economic development.

To top the trembling quake then, the city which lives in the shadow of one of the world's most active volcanoes, Mount Merapi, with summit elevation of nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), thousands of people were evacuated from its slopes as Merapi had spitted clouds of hot ash and debris.
It increased its activity shortly after the quake struck.

Preparing to save lives of those affected by natural disaster was and is very, very relevant. 

*UN noted that compared to other countries in 2006, Indonesia has the most disaster-related deaths in the world.

*Then, last August 22, Bantul, and the surrounding area of Yogyakarta was again shaken by another earthquake measuring 5 Richter scale that resulted nine lives being taken away.


Today, Indonesia is grasping with great twin disaster - volcano and tsunami.

Again, tens of thousands of residents were displaced by Java Merapi's at least three times Tuesday's eruption that forced residents to flee. Many fled with only the clothes on their backs although some residents refused, holding out to watch over their crops and livestock.

More than 50,000 people had cramped in temporary shelters around the nearby city of Yogyakarta, but there were fears for the fate of thousands more who had refused to budge.
Merapi is the most active of the 69 volcanoes with histories of eruptions in Indonesia.
It last erupted in June 2006, killing two people.

The mountain slopes is now an eerie wasteland, with houses burnt and flattened, trees scorched and stripped of leaves and the stench of rotting bodies filling the air.
At least 32 bodies were recovered from a tomb of fine grey ash of the "Mountain of Fire".
Mass funeral was held for those killed when the nation's most active volcano erupted.

Then, there's 9:42 p.m. Monday's tsunami after 10 minutes residents felt the 7.7-magnitude quake in remote Sumatra Mentawai, 150 miles from Padang, a popular destination for foreign surfers, which had claimed 311 lives.

Survivors had almost no warning that the three-metre (10-foot) wall of water, with waves went as far as 600 meters inland was bearing down on them, despite the installation of sophisticated network of alarm buoys off the Sumatran coast.
The expensive warning system had failed - It was established after at least 168,000 lives were taken away by the  2004 Asian tsunami, triggered by a 9.3-magnitude quake along the same faultline of last year's 7.6-magnitude  Padang earthquake  which claimed about 1,100 people.  
Hundreds still feared missing although bodies were found on beaches and coastal areas in the Mentawai island chain, which washed away entire villages.

Many villagers required stitches to open cuts suffered as they were tossed around in the surging sea.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago, a nation prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity due to its location - with hundreds active volcanoes to constantly need watched, spread across 17,500 islands inhibitat by 237 million people.
The country is strategically situated on a region where the meeting of continental plates cause high seismic activity, shaken by thousands of yearly earthquakes, is indeed a nation which often finds itself battling calamities, one after another.

But this time, they came overlapping, simultaneously ...


Uncle Lee said...

Hi Ummie, it is sad to read let alone witness such utter devastation and loss of lives as you described, we saw on TV.

I thought Toronto is far away from that ring of fire until some months back when I experienced my first earthquake.
Holy Smoke! In Toronto....our whole building got shook up, me first thought I was experiencing a heart attack, but I was looking at car pictures, not SYTs...
then realized it was an earthquake. A 5, origin in Quebec.

Vancouver is on that zone, one reason I decided on Toronto.
Have a nice day, ohhh ya, I love those Indon batiks, Lee.

Ummie said...

The first time I felt the earth moved under my feet was in the late 80s in California.
I then learnt that its a normal occurance - not a nice feeling until now.
I thank GOD for choosing me to live in The Best Of Both Worlds - S'pore & JB.

Mr Lee,
Merapi awakened again yesterday.
Memories are still fresh seeing Bantul earthquake aftermath.
How I feel now? Wordless...

Those batiks motives are Bantul's exclusive.