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01 Jan 2002 00:00
As terrified people fled the scene of Indonesia’s Kuta Beach bomb blast on Saturday, South African tourist Henry Geldenhuys was one who ran the other way.
Geldenhuys, a quietly-spoken surfer from Plettenberg Bay, could not bring himself to ignore the people who had been injured. On Tuesday he sat in a small guest house in the back streets of Kuta Beach on Bali, his hands still shaking as he recounted the events of Saturday night.
He was walking towards Club Sari when the bombs went off.
“I heard a faint thud, enough to turn my head and then seconds later it went off and I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.
“I started running towards where I heard the bomb because that’s where my friends were. When I found them they just said ‘don’t go, don’t go’ but I said ‘I have to go’.
People were running around in a daze. They were standing in a semicircle outside Paddy’s.”
Geldenhuys formed a small rescue team with some Balinese men and, guessing by their accents, an Australian and two New Zealanders, but there was no time to exchange names and he has no idea where they are now.
“The Australian guy was trying to pick up a lady (from the road).”
The pair went to the entrance of the burning Club Sari, where they came across a sight that has haunted Geldenhuys ever since. “There was a guy on his hands and knees. I went and said ‘are you all right?’ but he was charred rock solid.
“The Australian said to me: ‘He is gone, he is dead’.” The group set to work trying to get people out of the gruesome place, full of burning debris and bodies.
“We saw a hand sticking out, black and burned and stiff. We saw quite a few bodies under the rubble,” he said.
“It was hard to hold on to people and it was just a mission trying to get people out without falling and dropping them.”
But in a corner of the club they saw movement. “We saw a lady’s hand,” he recalled. “By then it was so hot and the guys were saying, ‘leave her, it’s too late.”
But Geldenhuys refused to walk away. He endured extreme heat from the fire that forced him to leave on his first attempt. “I said ‘I can’t, she’s waving her hand, you can’t just leave her’,” he said.
“There was a puddle outside, I just rolled in the water and took a motorbike helmet from it.
“Myself, some Balinese, two Kiwis we tried to pull her out, we didn’t last too long and had to get out. We went in again and we managed to get her out.
“She had been trapped between two tin plates. That could have saved her because she was a bit protected.
“When I splashed water on her skin, it was like a frying pan. She had a deep wound with her insides exposed. We tried to push that back. She had burns down her leg, cut open her leg and a burned eyelid.”
Geldenhuys stayed with the woman, whose accent was British, until she was taken to hospital.
“The whole time I just said to her ‘Just breathe, you’re doing fine. You are so strong, you are going to make it’.
“We were pouring water over the wounds. It sounded like she got really cocky and feisty. She said ‘I can breathe’ and that just lifted a bit of tension.
“A German doctor or nurse came along and had a look at her and said she was in fairly decent shape. In all, Geldenhuys rescued four people.
“I was trying to find transport. I wanted to find transport and no one had any. We took surfboards and put people on the boards and carried them off towards where the other people were. Apart from the woman, he holds little hope for the other three he helped rescue.
“One guy, his insides were hanging out and his eyes were rolling. His skin was hard to the touch,” he said.
“I don’t know if blood boils but he was literally charred. The only one I can think of who would have made it was the lady.”
Geldenhuys said he was struck by the response from the Balinese. “Some of the Balinese people took their own shirts off and covered the dead people. I thought it was amazing, a sign of respect.”
Geldenhuys recalled seeing eight to ten people trying to rescue others before the Balinese rescue teams arrived about half an hour after the bombs exploded. He guesses that 10 to 15 people were saved by people like himself.
“I remember thinking ‘I wish people would stop taking photographs, and try to help’. But maybe they were so traumatised. So many people lost their temper with guys taking footage.” Geldenhuys met up with his friends, and the three Australian girls who had planned to meet that Saturday night before the bombs exploded.
Although his parents want him to leave Bali, he is planning to stay in a quiet part of the island for two weeks to surf before travelling to Australia to join friends in Sydney.
Describing the attack as “cowardly and sick”, Geldenhuys said: “I don’t know if it was terrorists. I can understand people making a point by blowing up an embassy but I can’t understand how you attack people just purely here to have a good time.
“Half the people you speak to are probably against President Bush attacking Iraq, they are just peace-loving people here to have a good time,” he said. Australian politicians have blamed the blast on Islamic militants, possibly linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, and some commentators have suggested Australia’s support for the United States’ threatened attack on Iraq could have made its citizens targets for the bombers. - Sapa
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