“People here have their own local wisdom,” says Widi Sutikno, head of the Merapi Disaster Mitigation Command Post. The villagers' dependence on the land and their cattle also kept many from wanting to stay in the temporary shelters.
Thursday’s eruption drove those who had returned to their homes back down Merapi’s slopes, adding additional strain to already overcrowded shelters.
“There are more and more refugees coming down the mountain,” says Rukman, the head of disaster response for the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI). “We need water and better sanitation; that is the big problem.”
The PMI is working with the government to provide medical services and counseling to refugees, while international nongovernmental organization are helping distribute supplies to the four districts closest to the volcano.
“Our focus is on meeting the needs of the children,” says Yeye Edwina, a coordinator with the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision, which is distributing 2,000 relief kits containing toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap and blankets.
Rain has helped clear the air of ash, but many of those in evacuation centers have been forced to sleep on thin mats on damp ground. Relief workers say many children have coughs and they worry about respiratory problems.
Meanwhile, the death toll 800 miles to the west in the tsunami-hit Mentawai Islands ratcheted up to nearly 400 Friday, with officials saying search teams were continuing to look for the hundreds still missing.