Indonesia receives Kitsap TLC

KINGSTON — Since the deadly tsunami hit Southeast Asia Dec. 26, 2004, there have been endless efforts to raise awareness and send money to disaster relief organizations. In North Kitsap, kids have held spaghetti dinners, local bands have organized benefit concerts and classrooms have held penny drives.

But one resident, who is known for his treks across the world to help others in times of crisis, actually saw the devastation first hand a week after the waves hit Indonesia’s beaches.

North Kitsap Fire & Rescue medical officer and paramedic Tim Gates was dispatched to the Indonesian island of Sumatra and worked for three weeks outside of the city of Banda Aceh, near the epicenter of the tsunami. A member of the non-profit humanitarian aid organization Northwest Medical Team, he was part of the first NMT group that provided medical assistance to the region’s many victims.

Gates left the Northwest Jan. 2 and arrived at this final destination Jan. 7 in Lamno, south of Banda Aceh, which had a population of 25,000. However, he heard about 8,000 residents had been killed following the natural disaster.

The team set up its clinic beneath two parachutes — a waiting room and a clinic — in the front yard of a home of a woman they had met on the way to Lamno. The team included about 15 doctors, nurses and interpreters and much of Gate’s time was spent in the pharmacy, administrating drugs to patients and carrying out nursing duties. He also worked with a measles immunization program for children ages 6 months to 15 years.

Gates and the team primarily dealt with respiratory infections and infected wounds, however, they heard stories of people who suffered severe trauma and most likely died of it because it hadn’t been treated within the first few days of shock. He also heard stories of mothers who tried holding onto several of her children while wading through the floods but being forced release one to save the other.

While he had never participated in tsunami relief efforts before, it wasn’t much different than from his other trips around the world to Iraq and Sudan as a NMT member.

“Just trying to help people whatever way you can is the same,” Gates said.

But he’d never seen so much destruction.

“It looked like it was just leveled,” he said, noting he could see fishing boats that had been sent inland by the waves and were resting on top of piles of rubble that were once buildings.

While the clinic was located about a half-mile from the beach, Gates and his team frequently felt small aftershocks.

Because the team was the first Northwest group dispatched, there was little in the terms of logistical support and resources when the members first arrived.

“We didn’t know what we’d be doing or where we’d be staying,” Gates said.

However, once set up, there was no problem attaining resources and providing medical attention for residents — in fact, supplies increased as time went on. Residents were grateful for the team’s presence.

“If you set up the parachute, they will come,” Gates said.

And now, more than a month later, NMT groups are putting together a dental program, a boat program, counseling services and are helping rebuild the local hospital in Lamno.

Gates said the most difficult thing about the trip was the minimal contact with his wife, which was limited to once a week. However, the best feeling was the hug he received as a thank you from his host. For women to embrace a strange man in the Southeast Asian culture is not typical, he said.

“I was amazed at the resolve of the people,” he added about their attitudes about struggling to get life back to normal, as many had lost their possessions, family members and for some, their entire families. “You hadn’t met anyone who hadn’t been affected.”

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