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 CNS Story:

TSUNAMI-HOSPITAL Jan-28-2005 (670 words) xxxi

At Catholic hospital, Indonesian tsunami victims try to find healing

By Stephen Steele
Catholic News Service

MEDAN, Indonesia (CNS) -- At St. Elizabeth's Hospital, tsunami survivors try to find healing.

Some, like Muchtar, a 32-year-old man with his right leg amputated at his thigh, search for physical and emotional healing.

Others, keeping watch at bedsides, wait for family members to recover and try to deal with the loss of additional relatives.

Medan, capital of Indonesia's North Sumatra province, was not as devastated by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunamis as neighboring Aceh province, but some from Aceh made their way there. The Archdiocese of Medan has said that all tsunami victims can be treated at archdiocesan hospitals free of charge; it is just one of their many efforts to help keep victims from getting lost in the shuffle of recovery efforts.

Muchtar, who uses only one name, lost eight family members, including his wife and two children, in the Dec. 26 disaster. The waves carried him more than three miles. A tree that rammed him broke his leg in several places.

Hospital officials said his condition is serious and that he might not survive. Though clearly weak, he said he wanted to tell his story.

"I thought it was the end of the world," he said, recalling the moment when the wave crashed through his village, Lhok Nga. "So many people were screaming, 'The wave, the wave.'

"My neighbors carried me back to my village, but when we get back, everything was gone," he said.

One of his sisters, Sumiana, was in Meulaboh when the disaster hit. They lost several siblings.

"For me, it is my fate and I accept it, but my sister is still scared," Sumiana said as she waited by Muchtar's bedside.

In a nearby bed, Muhamad Usman, 23, had a broken leg and cuts, scars and bandages covering most of his body.

With his younger brother at the foot of his bed, Usman said he watched the sea swallow another brother and sister.

"We did not have time to run. We tried, but the wave came too fast," said Usman, who was in Banda Aceh when the tsunamis hit. He said his teenage brother and 10-year-old sister were killed because they went to the beach to collect fish washed up by the first wave.

Usman said his mother and father also died in the Dec. 26 disaster. The bodies of his father and sister were found; the bodies of his mother and brother were not.

St. Elizabeth's treatment of tsunami victims is part of archdiocesan efforts to help those who might not be spotted by international aid agencies.

The archdiocese enrolled some 200 children from Aceh in archdiocesan schools, free of charge. On Jan. 26, the archdiocese sent 12 seminarians to Meulaboh with food and clothing to distribute to survivors. Archdiocesan workers also will operate a community kitchen on the grounds of a mosque.

"This is important because it shows the Muslims that we are one of them; we are Indonesians. It promotes interreligious understanding and brings us closer," said Coadjutor Archbishop Anicetus Sinaga of Medan, who is heading the archdiocesan relief effort.

Archbishop Sinaga said the archdiocese, which does not have its own Caritas office, was not in a position to respond to the disaster with the wide-scale effort of an international nongovernmental organization. But what it can do, he said, is dispatch workers to areas the big agencies cannot reach.

The archbishop said many of the victims are not in the big refugee camps; they are scattered in small villages or living with relatives. They, too, need services and are in danger of not being helped, he said.

"It is very easy to come to Banda Aceh with lots of money and serve the people there. But it's another thing to serve those who are hidden. And only we, the Indonesians, know where they are," he said.

The archbishop said he toured Aceh province Dec. 28, shortly after the disaster.

"I was very shocked; that a single life was saved was a miracle," he said.


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