10 September 2004
It was with a horrible sense of deja vu that some Indonesian Red Cross volunteers rushed to a site near the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, where an explosion on Thursday claimed nine lives and rained shards of glass and building materials on pedestrians, injuring at least 180 others. For nine hours more than 100 volunteers gave first aid, gave blood transfusions, and transported bodies and injured people.
Many volunteers in the Indonesian Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia) have been awaiting with dread the moment when they would have to put into practice the skills and procedures honed by two years of drills – and two horrific bombs. In 2002, a bomb in a Bali nightspot killed 202 people. Just over a year ago, in August 2003, an explosion killed 12 people at the J W Mariott hotel in Jakarta.
On Thursday, many of the volunteers who responded within minutes had helped in earlier tragedies. Recognising the chilling likelihood of another explosion, the Indonesian Red Cross has been training teams of highly skilled Satgana volunteers to respond quickly and effectively.
At the beginning they had to deal with large crowds around the area, which made it difficult for volunteers to get access, bring in ambulances, and start taking people to hospital. With cooperation from police and the public, the volunteers were soon able to reach those in need.
Today the focus has moved to psychological support to heal the trauma of the pedestrians and their families.
“It was a strange kind of tragedy,” said Hadi Kuswoyo, communications officer of the Indonesian Red Cross, who was on the scene soon after he heard the blast from his office in headquarters.
“There were dead bodies, there were children suffering terribly from injuries, there was the hysteria of the families. People were so surprised because the embassy is located in a main street that everyone thought was safe.”
The Indonesian Red Cross is now working with about 10 psychologists to plan how to help families come to terms with the explosion. Disaster manager Irman Rachman said it was obvious at the hospitals, where 30 patients still remain, some in critical condition, that some relatives were not coping well.
“I saw families just waiting for news of their loved ones. Some people didn’t answer when we talked to them. There was no response. They were just afraid,” he said.
The Red Cross will visit the families of the dead to offer practical help, along with psychological support. And for those who still need treatment, the Red Cross is investigating how to pay for medical care that many cannot afford. Today a tracing officer began visiting hospitals to gather information about people reported missing.
Hadi Kuswoyo said the Indonesian Red Cross was becoming very skilled at responding to such unwanted events. “It has become part of our life,” he said.