In­done­sia tsunami leaves dis­as­ter in its wake

Na­ture dealt a dou­ble blow to an In­done­sian city when a strong quake was fol­lowed by a deadly tsunami


THE beach was packed with rev­ellers gath­ered for the open­ing of a pop­u­lar mu­sic fes­ti­val. As they laughed and chat­ted in the balmy air, there was no way they could know that by the morn­ing the sands would be a fetid soup of rub­ble and dead bod­ies, their is­land dec­i­mated by a ter­ri­fy­ing force of na­ture.

The tsunami that fol­lowed a cat­a­strophic earth­quake off the coast of the is­land of Su­lawesi, In­done­sia, laid waste to the bustling town of Palu, claim­ing the lives of more than 1900 peo­ple, in­jur­ing more than 2 500 and leav­ing more than 70 000 ­peo­ple dis­placed. “I never thought a tsunami could

hap­pen ­ here,” one shocked res­i­dent said. “Su­lawesi is in a bay, not on the open sea. We thought we’d be safe.”

But it did hap­pen. Wave af­ter wave as high as 6m sped in­land, driv­ing ships into build­ings, buck­ling bridges and drown­ing whole fam­i­lies as they watched TV or ate din­ner.

In­done­sia is no stranger to nat­u­ral ­dis­as­ters, the best-known be­ing the ­Box­ing Day tsunami of 2004 that killed more than 200 000 peo­ple in the coun­try and other In­dian Ocean na­tions.

They of­ten “clean up and carry on,” as one jour­nal­ist put it. But this time, the

death and de­struc­tion was too great.

News crews and res­cue mis­sions ­de­scended on the is­land as the scale of the hor­ror be­came ap­par­ent and a 25-strong team of vol­un­teers from South African char­ity Gift of the Givers left for the area to help with the search and res­cue ef­fort and med­i­cal care.

It didn’t take long for the stench of death to hang heavy in the air and ­au­thor­i­ties were forced to bury corpses in mass graves to elim­i­nate the threat of disease.

Open-air clin­ics sprang up as hos­pi­tals failed to cope with the on­slaught of the wounded.

“It’s like hell on earth,” one res­cue worker said.

A BBC news crew came across a fiveyear-old girl with a bro­ken leg ly­ing on a stretcher in the dark out­side a clinic. A doc­tor told them, “We don’t know where her fam­ily is and she doesn’t ­re­mem­ber where she lives.” His clinic had no power and was run­ning out of med­i­cal sup­plies.

Palu soon be­gan to run out of fresh ­wa­ter, food and petrol too. As queues for sup­plies grew, loot­ing and fights broke out over scraps.

Amid the tragedy though there were flick­ers of hope. Like the civil ser­vant called Azwan who told AFP how he’d been re­united with his wife Dewi two days ­af­ter the tsunami swept her away.

“I was so happy, so emo­tional. Thank God I could see her again.”

But an­other res­i­dent, a woman called Maruni, has lit­tle left. Her home has been de­stroyed and many fam­ily mem­bers are miss­ing.

“God must be pun­ish­ing us,” she says tear­fully. “There’s no other way to put it.”

TOP: Sur­vivors nav­i­gate an un­recog­nis­able land­scape of de­struc­tion in Palu. CEN­TRE: Fish­ing boats lie stranded on land af­ter be­ing dumped there by the tsunami. ABOVE: An aerial view of the ground that shifted due to soil liq­ue­fac­tion caused by the quake.

LEFT: A stricken woman car­ries what’s left of her be­long­ings as a stranded ferry looms large ­be­hind her. ­BE­LOW LEFT: A shell-shocked res­i­dent looks for rel­a­tives in a mass grave. BE­LOW RIGHT: Makeshift jerry cans are lined up as peo­ple queue for fuel.

RIGHT: A sur­vivor sur­veys the wreck­age in the wake of the catas­tro­phe. BE­LOW: A trau­ma­tised woman clings to her res­cuer as she emerges from the rub­ble. Hun­dreds were trapped in col­lapsed build­ings. BE­LOW RIGHT: Hos­pi­tals strug­gled to cope with more than 2 500 in­jured sur­vivors.

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