Tragedy of Indonesia quake
Nature dealt a double blow to an Indonesian city as 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 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 25strong 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 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 there was looting and fights broke out over scraps.
Amid the tragedy there were flickers of hope. Like the civil servant called Azwi who told AFP how he’d been reunited with his wife Dewi two days after the tsunami had 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. ABOVE MIDDLE: 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: Zulfkifli (30) looks for relatives in a mass grave. BELOW: Makeshift jerrycans are lined up as people queue for fuel.
RIGHT: A survivor surveys the wreckage left in the wake of the catastrophe. BELOW: A traumatised woman clings 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.