Thankful, despite losing 20 relatives to Java quake

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 June, 2006, 12:00am

Speaking to her brother in Java the day after the earthquake struck killing more than 6,200 people, Indonesian maid Nining Winarsih at first felt relief. Although every building in Bantul, the district south of Yogyakarta where her family lived, was gone along with all their possessions, her teenage son had walked away from the disaster. Her mother and father were in hospital, hurt but alive.

Then the scarcely comprehensible. Twenty relatives were dead - uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews. Some might be alive, she has no way to know. Communications into the area remain sporadic. Every time she gets through to her brother, the line cuts out after a few minutes.

Around a third of the 97,000 Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong come from central Java, where the quake hit just over a week ago.

'I am still crying. I felt so bad and I cried so much that I wasn't able to eat or drink,' the 39-year-old said. 'But I know that I should stop because I need to help my family.'

Her first indication her home town was struck came from a text message sent from Indonesia soon after the quake hit. She thought her family were safe and the quake had killed only a few Indonesians.

Then the television reports came in and the number of casualties climbed, first into the hundreds then the thousands. Panic set in. She found an internet cafe, and tried to call home but the phone lines in Java were down. Her friends were weeping, unable to reach their families.

Throughout that first night, she kept trying to dial home, believing her entire family had perished.

Now, as she copes with losing so many of her relatives, Ms Nining is nevertheless thankful her immediate family survived.

'Now at least I am able to drink a bit of water,' she said, adding her family faced a grim future. Her husband died years ago. Although unhurt, her son sleeps every night with only a plastic bag over his head for cover.

She has not gone home since coming to Hong Kong two years ago, and wants to return to Bantul to help her family, but the cost of the air ticket is prohibitive. She refuses to abandon hope a charitable donor might allow her to make the trip.

At the Indonesian consulate in Causeway Bay, Nugroho Aribhimo, the consul for cultural and social affairs, has lost count of the number of inquiries from maids seeking information on their families. The death toll from the quake now stands at 6,234 dead, with 46,000 people injured.

'It must have been hundreds,' he said.

Many of the calls were from Indonesian Chinese with relatives in Java, and Hong Kong residents with family on sightseeing tours in Jakarta, but none of the tours was affected by the earthquake, he said. Around $20,000 in donations has been collected by the consulate.

The Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers in Hong Kong will hold a briefing today to give testimonies of families of the earthquake victims.