Survivors of the deadly earthquake-triggered tsunami in the Mentawai Islands face an uncertain future as they attempt to rebuild their lives.
They might personally be relieved at finding themselves safe, but for those who have lost everything, the future is as frightening as their tsunami ordeal. They are struggling to raise money for living and for their children.
“I’m healing well, but I’m still a little sore,” Asaril Sababalat told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
He is one of many who needs time to recover from injuries, but what bothers Asaril the most is money.
He said he lived a financially comfortable life in Muntei Baru-Baru, located on the west coast of North Pagai Island. The hamlet was among those wiped out by the waves on Oct. 25.
Asaril said he used to have a 5-hectare cocoa plantation with 4,000 trees and was planning to harvest the crop in three years. He said he also planted thousands of coconut trees and had two boats that he rented out. Asaril said he also bred 24 pigs and 50 chickens.
All but his boats are gone.
To add to his misery, he lost three of his five children and his wife Rospiana Sabeleau remains missing.
The tsunami killed 447 people and left 56 missing. The wave also seriously injured 170 and inflicted light injuries on 325 others. More than 15,000 have been forced to flee.
The tsunami destroyed five schools, six government offices, seven bridges, seven houses of worship, two resorts and one ship.
Asaril and some family members were at home when the disaster struck. Asaril said he had gone out to survey any damage from the earthquake when the tsunami hit.
Two of Asaril’s children survived the disaster because they were at their Christian boarding school in Nemnem Leleu, Sikakap.
“School starts on Monday, but I can’t pay,” Asaril said.
He said he used to earn Rp 2 million renting out his boats, but now needs Rp 4 million to repair both.
“I wish things return to normal soon. I need seeds to start planting again and money to repair the boats.”
Former Mentawai councilor Kortanius Sabeleakek said the government would face a tough task helping people get back on their feet financially.
“Fishermen are still traumatized about going out to sea. Farmers face the daunting task of restoring cultivation with their land swamped by sea water,” he said. He joined a relief team to distribute aid to victims.
On the islands’ west coast, where the tsunami devastated villages, cultivated land had not extended more than 600 meters from the coast, as the higher ground was not fertile, Kortanius said.
“Plantations and paddy fields have been destroyed,” he said.
He added that the government plan to relocate people to higher ground was unfeasible given the unsuitability of the land.
Referring to previous relocations, he said people built their lives close to the sea, not mountains. After the 2007 earthquake, residents of Balekraksok hamlet were moved 7 kilometers away from the coast, but gradually drifted back, as their livelihoods depended on the sea.
They moved into their old homes before this latest tsunami came, killing 27 and leaving two missing.