A difficult holiday for Sidoarjo mud victims


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December 24, 2006   ID Nugroho, The Jakarta Post, Sidoarjo Yuliana Thomas could only relish the memory of past Christmas celebrations, since the victim of the Sidoarjo, East Java mud disaster is now living in makeshift shelter at the Porong market. "Christmas used to be fun because we, me and my family, went together to church for Mass," the 30-year-old told The Jakarta Post while shooing flies away from a half-finished rice packet, one of the meals provided to displaced residents in the market. Her family attended Christmas Mass at Bethel Indonesia Church in Sidoarjo, where many natives of Ambon, like herself, used to go. After Mass, she and husband Cornelis Bale and their three children would spend time in the church. The children played together while the parents socialized with other families. Later, the family, who used to live in the Tanggul Angin Sejahtera housing complex, would visit neighbors who were also celebrating. "We would exchange Christmas greetings," she recalled. But Christmas this year will be very different. In late May, hot mud began gushing from a gas exploration site run by Lapindo Brantas Inc. On Nov. 22, the gradual sinkage of land near the outpouring caused an underground gas pipeline to explode. Four days later, the hot sludge flooded their house. The family has been living in the market shelter ever since. Another Christian victim from the same housing complex, Supriyadi, did not want to miss out on Christmas. "Maybe my family will go to the Catholic Church in Porong, which is close to the shelter," he told the Post. His two houses, one in which he lived and another where he used to sell poultry feed, are now only a memory. "Our village chief said the mud has engulfed our houses to their roofs," said the native of Kediri, East Java. He has been living in the shelter for more than two weeks. Some 12,000 displaced residents have taken refugee at 50 shop-houses and 272 kiosks in the market, sharing space with other families. Yuliana divided the 20-square-meter kiosk with a curtain. Clothing and important documents were piled in a corner while the kiosk's terrace housed cooking utensils. "It's not bad, we still can sleep, although it's very hot inside," Yuliana said. The women said three weeks in the shelter felt like a year, because it was crowded with thousands of other displaced people. "When the morning comes, we have to be patient to get through the day," Yuliana said. In the morning, the family has to struggle even to bathe, since there are only 22 bathrooms in the market for over 12,000 people. When the water suddenly stops running, many have to skip washing. For families with children, the situation is even more difficult. A health post helps by providing free treatment for the refugees. "My children are the most miserable. Two have started suffering from constant coughing and flu and the other one suffers diarrhea," Yuliana said.