Over a week after the devastating tsunami hit Indonesia, the damage caused by this wide-scale tragedy is devastating communities. With waves up to 18 feet high, the tsunami was triggered by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and has left an unimaginable trail of destruction across the island of Sulawesi.
Latest figures show that over 2,000 have been killed with 11,000 injured and almost 700 still missing. Towns and infrastructure lies in ruins and a staggering 67,000 houses have been left damaged.
I’ve now been in Indonesia for the last two weeks with our team who has been meeting survivors of this immense tragedy and assisting with the recovery effort. We’re working with local partners to respond and are currently assisting in search and rescue efforts, transporting injured people to hospitals, and providing generators, emergency food, shelter and medical assistance. Around 200,000 men, women and children urgently need humanitarian assistance. It’s therefore now crucial that the stories of the brave survivors are heard.
Here’s the account of one family and how their life has been turned upside down.
Mother Rori: Immense pain in Palu
Meet Rori Oryza Elok from Palu. Married with a little baby girl, six month old Reyzi, Rori and her family used to live in the Perumnas Balaroa housing complex in Palu. However, when the earthquake sadly hit, the whole area moved and buildings started to shake. Rori ran outside, as did her husband with their baby. However, things were about to get much worse.
All of a sudden, the ground opened up and a huge crack appeared. Rori fell into the crack and before she could move, a car fell on top of her. She was stuck and couldn’t move. In excruciating pain, she called out for help. What she didn’t realise though was that liquefaction had taken place and the ground had started to swallow up the homes in her neighbourhood.
It wasn’t until many hours later that her husband was able to gather support from other people to come and dig Rori out from underneath the huge car. As she had been trapped, her leg was now completely shattered.
With no access to heavy machinery to lift the car out, the group resorted to digging the mud from underneath Rori to create space to then pull her out. Trapped under this car, I can only imagine the pain and distress that Rori was going through and continues to battle.
Once the dust had settled, Rori and her husband looked out at the destruction that had been created. What was once a housing complex of 500 homes was now a land of ruin with literally all the homes having been swallowed up by the ground.
Although many people tried to get out when the tragedy hit, it all happened so quickly. As a result many people – no doubt hundreds of men, women and children – were buried alive with their homes. As we speak, 152 people in fact are still buried under debris.
As Rori tried to escape, she was also separated from her mother. Almost two weeks since the earthquake though, her mother’s body still hadn’t been found. But she wasn’t the only person that’s missing. Rori’s grandmother is also still missing, as well as her brother-in-law, two cousins and an aunt.
Family means everything: Rheyza’s story
Rori also has younger brother Rheyza who was over 2,000 kilometres away at the time of the earthquake. Working as a lecturer in Java, as soon as he heard about the earthquake he tried to catch the first flight to Palu. Of course the airport was shut down and no flights were scheduled for Palu, so he instead took the first flight he could find to the island of Sulawi.
Determined to be there for his family, Rheyza then made the rest of the journey to Palu by road. Due to the landslides, the roads were destroyed and bridges collapsed. The journey was therefore not going to be easy. Rheyza instead found he kept having to turn back and find an alternative route.
When we met Rheyza, we were astonished to hear of his sheer determination to get back home to find his mother’s body and give her the funeral she so sadly deserved. As if the death of his mother wasn’t heart-breaking enough, he was told that rescue forces wouldn’t be able to find her body. Instead, Rheyza kept insisting that he would get there and find his mother.
Eventually, after a 30-hour long road trip, Rheyza arrived in Palu to see the remains of what was once his home. What he witnessed when he arrived completely broke his spirit. He broke down. Feeling seemingly defeated, he knew that he would never find his mother as the house they once lived in had split into two and remains of each half could be found 50 metres apart. His mother was sadly buried somewhere in between the two.
If this wasn’t enough, Rheyza also discovered that his brother-in-law who was also living in the same housing complex was missing along with one of his children, his mother and grandmother. They had all gathered at their grandmother’s house that day and now were nowhere to be seen.
Rheyza, Rori and her family as well as Rori’s three-year-old niece are now taking refuge in a house further up in Palu away from the coast which is still standing since the earthquake. This house is now hosting 20 people including several families who have lost their homes in the earthquake. These families have tragically been left nothing except the clothes they were wearing when they escaped their crumbling homes.
Responding to disaster: Indonesia in turmoil
Rori, Rheyza and their family are just a handful of the 200,000 people in urgent need of clean water, food, medical care and shelter following the earthquake. These are the real heartbroken survivors of the horrific earthquake and tsunami.
Rori’s niece is so traumatised from the earthquake and from having lost her family to the collapsed houses that she is now too scared to go into the house. She instead stays outside and sleeps outdoors. Who can blame her when everyone and everything she knew disappeared into the ground?
If that wasn’t enough, she can still feel the physical aftershocks which continue to haunt the family. Add to this physical trauma, the emotional and financial aftershocks of losing everything you once held dear – family, home and safety.
As we work to address the immense damage of the disaster, our focus now is on the survivors. We must do what we can to ensure that they receive the basic essentials to allow them to survive this extremely difficult time.
Please join us in supporting this grieving community. Donate to our Indonesia appeal and help families like Rori and Rheyza’s to rebuild their lives.