Five days, five earthquakes - spare a thought for the people of Palu

Some members of Gift of the Givers at Petobo, where an estimated 9000 houses were buried beneath the soil after an earthquake. Picture: Sihle Mlambo

Some members of Gift of the Givers at Petobo, where an estimated 9000 houses were buried beneath the soil after an earthquake. Picture: Sihle Mlambo

Published Oct 12, 2018


Jakarta - Imagine experiencing an earthquake a day for five days. 

Now imagine these earthquakes coming just days after a massive earthquake has brought about death and destruction in the same city.

That's the story of the city of Palu in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. It is scary to experience, especially when you know and have read about how the earthquake and the resultant liquefaction and tsunami killed more than 2000 people on the island. 

We have spent the week in the earthquake hit city of Palu, where we travelled to the South East Asian country as part of the Gift of the Givers relief efforts to the country.

At least 2000 people have been killed by the violent earthquake and tsunami of late September. 

Thousands more were buried beneath the soil along with their homes and belongings on that fatal September 28 when nature struck.

We arrived in the afternoon last Sunday with the volunteers with search and rescue, advanced paramedic and urban and search and rescue backgrounds. The team were keen to go, with their equipment and rescue essentials, their chests puffing out with promise and determination, with the colours of the South African flag and the colours of the Gift of the Givers worn with pride and eagerness to make a difference. 

Be as it may, the Indonesian government would not allow foreign rescue aid to dig beneath the soil to remove or identify trapped or dead citizens beneath the soil.

But the group still forged on, donating food, water, shelter and medical aid to some 300 families who suddenly had nothing compared to the little they had before the vicious quake struck.

The people of Palu appreciated the effort, hundreds of selfies, smiles and humble greetings were exchanged with the community and the 25 person entourage. 

And though there was a boisterous spirit among the team, there were still many moments that reminded the group about nature's violent call on this island. 

For each day from Sunday to Friday, aftershocks from the earthquake were felt - some scarier than others. 

The most violent was the aftershock on the early hours of Tuesday morning when the thud and vibrations from the earthquake gave volunteers a rude awakening. 

Except for me, I had been on medication and slept through it - and that is equally scary in itself.

The aftershock was measured at 5.2 on the Richter scale, but it was enough to send locals wailing to the streets and enough to give the travelling relief group from Africa just a glimpse of the terror the quiet, timid and poor people of Indonesia experience so often.

The volunteers jumped to the feet, got out of bed and ran outside. Those primary school earthquake drills coming handy, many years later. 

One would assume they would get used to it, as the country is prone to earthquakes, but one imagines even for the locals, this is hard to get used to. 

In the past two months alone, earthquakes have claimed the lives of more than 2600 people in the country in two cities alone. 

That's nature's devastation, but one the people of Indonesia will not get used to anytime soon. 

Dr Yacoob Vahed noted during medical visits with patients that some patients had been psychologically scarred by the quake and had reported back pains which basically did not exist in the physical sense.

With varying stories and reasons for the psychological trauma, one woman was under strain because she could not find her only son after desperately searching for them. 

Vahed said the woman was one of many that needed further help.

As the Gift of the Givers depart Indonesia for South Africa tonight, after working closely with the local NGO PPPA, tonnes of food, shelter, water and medical supplies were donated to the people of Indonesia, a token, a gesture, to help them start to think of the question of rebuilding the lives from scratch again.

But having experienced aftershocks during this voyage to the east, and being terrified for hours on end, spare a thought for the people who have no choice but to live through it all in the countries quake-prone 17 000 islands.

* Cash contributions to assist the victims of the disaster can be deposited into Gift of the Givers, Standard Bank, Pietermaritzburg, Account No. 052278611, Branch Code 057525. Please send deposit slip to [email protected] for acknowledgement. You can also donate online 


** Independent Media journalist Sihle Mlambo is in Indonesia with the Gift of the Givers team.

Sunday Tribune

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