On Sep. 28, less than two months after a deadly earthquake struck Indonesia’s Lombok island, another tremor hit on the island nation’s Central Sulawesi province. With a magnitude of 7.5, the quake struck at 5:02 p.m., generating a devastating tsunami along with it. The meters-high tidal waves turned entire neighborhoods into muddy sinkholes. Among the worst were the cities of Palu and Donggala, although rescuers are struggling to reach remote coastal communities. Sitting along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a volatile strip along the ocean’s periphery where most of the world’s deadliest quakes occur, Indonesia is prone to disasters. However, these twin tragedies were the worst to strike in years. Soon after, three volcanoes erupted on nearby Indonesian islands. Some wonder if those could possibly be related.
As of Oct. 4, the death toll has reached a soaring 1,558 people and is expected to continue rising as forensic crews comb through the wreckage. Over 70,000 people lost their homes to the disaster. Many are growing desperate, setting up makeshift tents, eating fruit from the few remaining trees, and scouring for water as aid remains scarce. Meanwhile, looters, bandits and armed thugs grow increasingly bolder. Between Donggala and Palu, the “road is lined with people begging for food and water,” said Fatwa Fadillah, program manager for disaster risk reduction at Catholic Relief Services.
Despite the cries for help that once rang from the wreckage, the battered city is now engulfed in silence. By the Sunday after the disaster, research and rescue teams were already describing an eerie quietness that had fallen over the rubble. As rescuers searched through the city’s most devastating neighborhoods, there were no urgent calls for aid. It had been days since most rescuers heard a cry for help.
Courtesy: ABC News
But there was a glimmer of hope a week after the disaster when the French organization, Pompiers de l’Urgence, said that its high-tech sensors had “detected the presence of a victim.” But hours later, the rescue group could not confirm whether a survivor had been found. In places with the worst destruction, there may have never been any cries for help. On what was once city streets, mud and rubble now pile two stories high.
At dawn, silence engulfs the city. However, after the rescue work begins, the streets of Petobo is transformed into a sea of activity with hundreds of workers descending on the city, looking for any hope of life. When they get close to a body, they have to carefully navigate how to release it from the debris.
When dusk comes, it is silent once again as the sun sets and the workers are forced to stop working. A few people remain, walking gingerly across toppled gates and flattened roofs, which are the only flat surfaces in much of the neighborhood. Some are looking for their own belongings, while others wish to take whatever they can find.
In the nearby neighborhood of Balaroa, the scene is much the same. Rescuers carefully tried to remove the body of a young boy. Others found the body of a woman holding a small child. One evening, a teenage girl was seen carrying out a broken guitar.
Yet only a few blocks away from the devastation, neighborhoods remained intact and the streets are easily traversable.