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INDONESIA-ACEH Jan-24-2005 (800 words) With photos posted Jan. 20, 21 and 24. xxxi

CRS worker's loss of family members illustrates tragedy Acehnese face

By Stephen Steele
Catholic News Service

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (CNS) -- Eko Priadana Morcky was the first Catholic Relief Services worker to return to Banda Aceh after the earthquake and tsunamis that destroyed the city. But he was not there to work; he was there to search for his family.

Eko, an information technology specialist in CRS' office in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, lost 20 family members. He returned to Banda Aceh Dec. 28, two days after the disaster.

There was little news available on conditions in Aceh province, and Eko said that before he left he began to prepare himself emotionally that his sister, brother, grandmother and other relatives were dead. The night before he left, he and his mother gathered in their living room for evening prayer.

"I told her, 'Just accept what will happen. If we are going to lose all our family, just accept. I have to realize that there is no chance. But I still pray that they are safe,'" he told Catholic News Service in January.

After arriving, he went to the home where his brother and sister lived, about 3.5 miles from the sea. The house was full of mud and water, and there were no signs of life.

From there he tried to get to his grandmother and aunt's house, about 2,000 feet from the sea, but the road was blocked by a pile of debris. He climbed the pile and looked at the scene of destruction all the way to the ocean.

"And I think, 'Who could survive?'" he said.

Eko climbed over the wall and came face to face with the horror of Banda Aceh, and within the piles of thousands of bloated, decomposing corpses, he set out to his find his family.

"I didn't know where to begin; the bodies were already broken," he said, noting that he stopped looking after about 30 minutes.

"How could I find them when they all looked the same? I just hope that if they died, they were buried," he said, citing Muslim tradition that requires corpses to be buried as quickly as possible.

Later, he found his sister and brother at a surviving family member's house.

"My sister is crying; she said, 'We lost our grandmother,'" he recounted.

In the corner of the house he saw a cousin who survived the tsunami by climbing a coconut tree.

"But his eyes were empty because he saw the water take his mother and father away," Eko said.

He then scoured refugee camps for surviving family members, but after two days he stopped.

"I found out that from my grandmother's village only two people survived," he said.

Eko has remained in Banda Aceh, assisting the CRS emergency team's response to the disaster. CRS is the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency.

"When they asked me to stay, I said 'yes.' But I will not go back to the place where they live," he said.

Eko's story is illustrative of Aceh's grief: Everyone either lost a family member or knows someone who lost a family member. Indonesia's death toll was between 115,000 and 174,000, most of whom died in Aceh. The discrepancy in numbers had to do with the way government agencies counted the missing among the dead.

As of Jan. 23, more than a thousand bodies a day continued to be discovered in Banda Aceh. The waterfront was an eerie sight, with nearly every building -- except for a mosque -- leveled.

Indonesia has reported a 30 percent rate of respiratory infection among refugees, which resulted from swallowing seawater when the tsunamis crashed through the city. The government also reported that schools were to reopen Jan. 26.

In one of the city's many camps, some refugees spoke of how they had enough food to survive, but that most went to bed hungry. But mostly, they wanted to speak of the disaster, providing an oral history for their tragedy.

Cut Nila said she was bathing her 3-year-old son when the powerful tsunamis swept through her Banda Aceh home, carrying the boy to his death. She was one of the nearly half-million people left homeless by the disaster.

A smile that belied her sorrow as she spoke of how her son "loved eating apples and drinking strawberry milk" remained in place as tears streamed down her cheeks when she recalled the moment she realized her boy's life was taken from her.

She lives at a camp with her husband; the couple is expecting a second child. Because she is pregnant, she receives extra milk rations, which she says she will not drink. Instead, she gives the milk to other children in the camp.

"I want to help other children grow strong, so that I can honor my son," she said.


Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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