Thursday, 29 October 2009
It is a great learning experience for me to travel with Ebu Sastri for she is from this area and has such empathy with the people affected. I learn about the culture, the habits, the humour which is never far from the surface, and the needs of the people. She tells me in West Sumatra, it has one of the few matriarchal societies left in the world. By the respect people show to Ebu Sastri, I am now calling her the 'Queen of west Sumatra." When I returned to Padang, Ebu Sastri showed me round her office where she is secretary to the Parliament. Many parts of her building have collapsed and the rest have major cracks. Anxious women wait in her office to discuss their problems. So many show signs of trauma having lost many familiy members in the quake. Her days are long as she holds down a full time job and gives another 4 or 5 hours a day to Red Cross.
Ebu Sastri (left) and me leaving the preschool which is housed in a tent. Photo: Wayne Ulrich.
Young children sing and dance in a pre school tent at Rauahatul Jannali. The school has 25 students who parents pay US$ 2.5 a month. Some parents cannot afford to pay. The teacher receives a salary of US$ 10 per month. Getting schools operating quickly in tents supplied by PMI have played a vital role in gradually alleviating stress and trauma. Two weeks ago many children spoke of having recurring nightmares when they sleep and dream their parents have been killed. Now the PMI PSP volunteers who visit schools and communities on a regular basis, say the nightmares experienced by the children are dissipating.
Kemisah sits on a wall outside her destroyed home. The Red Cross have given her a tent to live in. Photo: Wayne Ulrich
Ebu Sastri right, and Pak Arifin 2nd from right, listen to Kemisah, who lost her home and all belongings in a village outside of Kota Pariaman. To date she has received a tent, sleeping mats, jerry cans, family kit, hygiene kit and mosquito nets. Photo: Wayne Ulrich
Landslides triggered by the earthquake, are starting to move again, threatening villages below on the shores of Lake Maninjau in Agam . We inspected this remote mountain area yesterday by helicopter Photo: Bob MCKerrow
Due to heavy rain, there is a continued concern that many communities living around the crater lake of Maninjau in Agam will continue to face the threat of renewed land and mud slides. Many villages have already been destroyed by landslides triggered by the earthquake. Now with the rainy season is approaching the government (fearing the landslides will continue to destroy the remaining settlements) has moved more than 3000 people to safer locations. These people may later return once the risks have reduced or will move to more permanent dwellings away from the danger areas. Tents supplied by the Hong Kong Red Cross to the PMI are being used to provide immediate shelter relief to these vulnerable families. Photo Bob McKerrow,
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Pak Sudir sits in a chair one month after the earthquake on the site where nine of his family were killed "What can I do, I lost everything. " In the sub village of "Paramancu, Padang Pariaman district, 76 people were killed in this village alone when a huge mudslide engulfed them . Less than a few hundred metres away, two other villages were hit too, killing an additional 149 people. Photo: Bob McKerrow Pak Arifin director of the DM dept at the PMI headquarters whom I travelled with today. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Pak Sudir with his neighbour Ahmad who lost four members of his family. between the two, they lost 13 family members while they were in nearby fields working. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Today we visited the very remote village of Selangan Tinqqi and had a good talk to the villagers about the helicopter distributions of food, tarpaulins, kitchen utensils, clothes, tool kits and hygiene kits we have delivered in the past two weeks. They were also pleased with the mobile medical teams we have sent in. Here Wayne Ulrich our ops manager discusses the situation with villagers. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Friday, 23 October 2009
Yesterday morning Friday 23 Oct, I went for my first morning walk in 24 days. I felt like a school boy stealing from the teachers drawer. As guilty as sin. Should I not be writing appeals for help, negotiating for more helicopters and volunteers ? No, my body and brain need a rest.My legs were stiff and my back aching from sitting in front of a screen, jumping in and out of helicopters and walking across the uneven surface of landslides. It was the first time I have done something for myself. As I walked I thought of all those selfless people I have worked with since 30 September. Pak Irman head of the PMI operation whose grand daughter used to phone daily from Jakarta begging him to come back. Wayne our ops manager whose been working 24/7 handling a complex operation. Kathy Mueller from the Canadian Red Cross who has been out there daily listening and recording the stories of affected families, volunteers and staff. her latest article I paste below. Matteo from the Italian Red Cross who came with his team and erected 3 base camps for 200 volunteers so they could get some rest and a shower after attending to the dead with dignity, administering first aid, distributing relief items, counselling grieving children and reuniting families. Vera, Putu, Qasim. Jamie. Ian, Amara who work for me and John and Tucky the helicopter pilots. The list goes on and on. Their stories need to be told. Umi in one of my many PMI heroes.
She is only 25 years old, but Umi Alfiyah is already a veteran of major disasters. As a former volunteer with the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), and now as a staff member, she responded after the 2004 tsunami in Aceh, the 2006 earthquake in Yogyakarta, and now, the earthquake in West Sumatra. When disaster strikes, it’s her job to reconnect people who have lost contact.
“We have had around 40 phone calls from people outside West Sumatra who haven’t been able to reach their families in Padang and Pariaman. People are scared. They don’t know what’s happened to their relatives,” she says.
Alfi, as she prefers to be called, is heading up the Restoring Family Links (RFL) unit as part of PMI’s emergency response to the earthquake. Their efforts to help people find each other include the launching of a national hotline. Friends and family across the country and overseas can call to learn the whereabouts of their loved ones. They will also take satellite phones into the more remote areas where cell phone service may not be reliable.
Kathy Mueller at work: Photo: Bob McKerrow
When a call does come in, Alfi and her team head out to visit the missing person’s last known address. They will keep visiting until the person is located.
“We had one call from a man in Jakarta,” says Alfi. “He hadn’t been able to reach his brother in Padang City. He had been calling and calling for days but there wasn’t any answer. We took down as much detail as we could and then visited the brother’s house.
“He was there, but hadn’t been able to call out. We gave him a mobile phone and the two brothers talked. It was very emotional. They were both crying. Four days is a long time not to know if your brother is alive.”
It reconfirms that for most people, insecurity is the worst situation to be in. Survivors of a disaster can better handle grief, losses and rebuilding their lives, once they know what has happened and what their options are.
Despite the challenges of working in a disaster zone, Alfi does not entertain any thoughts of giving it up. “It can be upsetting because a lot of people are buried under landslides and collapsed houses. We don’t always have good news for people. But I really enjoy the job, especially when we do reunite families. Other PMI programmes provide material goods. We look after people’s emotional needs. We find their family.”
Alfi has been coordinator of the RFL unit for the past three years, but her connection to PMI began years earlier in high school. During the big earthquake in Yogyakarta in 2006, her own house was damaged, yet she still came straight into work.
“We had more than 200 requests to find family members. We also worked with the government to help with the identification of bodies. It was a very emotional time, but it really showed how valuable a service this is. I have been with the Red Cross for so long now, I can’t imagine working anywhere else.” Thanks to Kathy Mueller of the Canadian Red Cross who wrote this article.
Monday, 19 October 2009
It's day 21, post earthquake. Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) supported by the IFRC and member countries, are focusing on the early recovery stage as relief flows steadily to a target goal of 20,000 families. Designing T shelters is our focus now. T stands for temporary, and other may call it transitional.
The goal for the Red Cross is:
“To assist vulnerable members of a community, currently living under a tarpaulin, or in a tent to work together to make themselves a safe place to live, from which to start their economic activities”
We plan to make our T shelters from locally available materials
*Communities can add their own materials
*Constructed by communities using “Mutual Benefit-Gotong Royong system.
Over 190,000 house holders are in need urgent need of temporary shelters. Photo: Bob McKerrow By day ten, people were starting to build temporary shelters. Here is one on the roadside near Pariaman. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The first T shelter prototype built by PMI and architectural students from a major University in Padang. Taken on day 20. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Bamboo is not that plentiful in West Sumatra so wood and coconut wood looks the best option.
Another T shelter built in Padang. Day 20. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Four types of T shelters under construction. Day 20. Bob McKerrow
A bamboo prototype T shelter. Day 20. Photograph: Bob McKerrow
Another simple T shelter underway. This one has foundation blocks made from cement. Frame from low grade construction timber or recycled wood from community
Wall material can be chosen from bamboo mat, timber off-cuts, split bamboo or other low cost options. Photo: Bob McKerrrow
My good friend Kathy Mueller from the Canadian Red Cross visited a major relief distribution yesterday and explains a little about her day.
With two trucks falling in behind, the Red Cross Red Crescent team starts out on the two-hour drive to deliver aid to those affected by the recent earthquake.
On this day, they are delivering food packages to 175 families in Sikapak, North Pariaman. Almost all of the homes in this area have been damaged to some extent, and most remain uninhabitable. Many have now built temporary shelters. They camp out in ramshackle lean-tos, or under leaky tarps.
Yuhendri, 31, has moved his two young children into his mother’s house. It is too painful to return to his former home. Not only does it not exist anymore, it is also the site where he lost his wife.Yuhendri with his six-month-old son, Mardion.
“She died trying to save our six-month-old son, Mardion,” Yuhendri says quietly. “She ran back into the house during the earthquake to grab him. Before she could reach him, a cement wall came crashing down on top of her.”
Little Mardion survived. He was in a different part of the house – a section constructed from wood - with his grandmother.
“My wife was screaming,” Yuhendri adds. “Neighbours pulled her from the rubble, but it was too late.”
Almost as if on cue, Mardion, who is sitting on dad’s knee, starts crying.
“He does that a lot now,” Yuhendri explains. “Maybe it’s because he misses his mother.
“You would have liked her,” he says with a smile, as he visibly perks up at the memory of the woman he adored. “She liked to laugh and smile. She had many friends. Everyone knew her. I loved her very much.”
Now, Yuhendri is faced with the challenge of raising a baby and three-year-old daughter on his own. He is getting help. His relatives and neighbours are all chipping in – and so is the Red Cross Red Crescent.
Yuhendri received rice, biscuits, oil, sugar, milk powder and noodles from the Turkish Red Crescent Society today. It is nourishment that will help keep his little family fed over the coming weeks.
A difficult time
“I am very traumatized right now,” he says. “It is a very difficult time for me and my family. But I am also very happy to receive this food package. It is nice to know that people care.”
It’s sentiments like that that propelled Ali Akgul to get into the world of humanitarian aid. He is heading up the Turkish Red Crescent’s earthquake response in West Sumatra, and was also in Banda Aceh after the 2004 tsunami.
“To help people is something very special,” he says. “I can see it in their eyes. They are very thankful. I can’t describe that feeling. It’s priceless.”
After the aid packages have all been distributed, the paperwork signed, the bullhorn packed away, this Red Cross Red Crescent team stops at the request of villagers to get their photos taken.
There are hugs and kisses, and lots of big grins - on the faces of those receiving the aid, and on the faces of those delivering it.
Saturday, 17 October 2009
17 November 2009
The last few days have been frantic. With most major earthquake relief operations, days 14 – 21 are the ones where the the relief pipeline is fully open and bulk supplies flow with an intensity into ports, airports and warehouses. Today we have a group of helicopter pilots checking out the remote mountain villages he and fellow pilots will be flying relief supplies in to during the following weeks. We have one super Puma helicopter and four smaller ones. One of the small choppers is used for the medical teams who are flown daily to remote location and picked up later in the day. The reports I get from the health coordinator, Dr. Eka, show a deteriorating health situation as most clinics and hospitals have been destroyed. Today Dr. Eka and his team landed in two villages, Dunsun Koto Tanduang and Dusun Sariak Laweh, and this was the first contact they had with the outside world since the quake struck 18 days away. The people were living off fruit and vegetables and delighted that outside help had arrived in this remote hilly area. We will keep this Red Cross 'flying doctor' service going for at least another two weeks. Villagers in Padang getting water from the Indonesian Red Cross Tanker. Photo: Bob Celebrating World Handwasing day at a school in Padang. Photo: Bob McKerrow
My role in Padang at the operation centre of the Red Cross operation, is supporting Pak Irman the Operations manager for the Indonesian Red Cross.
Our day starts around 6 a.m. Irman and I have a breakfast meeting. I had a great sleep last night, a full five hours, the first long one since day one. Pak Irman and I are declaring a day off for certain staff and volunteers tomorrow. Most of them have been working 18 hours a day for 17 days. People look burnt out. With an airlift starting with 5 helicopters tomorrow, essential staff and volunteers need to be on duty, but the bulk will be able to ‘chill out.’ Wayne the ops manager is enjoying a long weekend with his family and deserves that break. He has done a marvellous job.
The Italians, all eleven of them, are here in force. They will set up an 80 bed camp for volunteers with toilets, showers, recreation room and kitchen. Another 40 bed camp will be set up in Kota Pariaman. This is crucial for volunteer morale.
They have invited me back tonight to their boat. The boat was the only accommodation they could find as a large number of hotels were destroyed. They tell me they have found a shop that sells red wine so I have invited myself round for dinner.
Many schools in Padang have been destroyed and children now are taught in tents. Photo: Bob McKerrow
This morning the district branch celebrated Global handwashing day. Kathy, Patrick and The Co-Chairman attended. Pupils from 3 destroyed school were in two large tents outdoor doing their schooling when we arrived. Every child got a hygiene kit with soap, toothpaste and tooth brush, face clothes, mini towel and nail clippers. We took the children outside the tents to the tap stand (20 taps), where water is brought in by PMI tanker twice a day. Here we gave demonstrations on hand washing. We had clowns and large animals and soon we were all laughing and we had lots of fun together. The children were delighted to get outside of the hot tents and play and laugh. It was a relief for me to get away from the office and meetings.
I talked to the PMI PSP (psychosocial counselling) leader and she said “ It is very sad dealing with the children for they are badly traumatised, and wake up frequently at night in fear of another earthquake and their family being wiped out.”
The PMI, supported by the Irish Red Cross, has set up a mobile service to help the communities affected by the west Sumatra earthquakes to exchange necessary and appropriate information. By texting information to a central collating service (SMS Gateway), people can share their earthquake related concerns, ask questions, solicit information, ask for help.
The PMI supported by the Irish Red Cross has made a firm commitment to building a beneficiary communication model where information flows in TWO directions, from providers to people in need, and from those beneficiaries back to the providers. Through such an interactive exchange, resources can move efficiently and effectively to the individuals and communities most capable of benefiting from support. Later, during recovery, planning can incorporate the insights and priorities that come from local groups and individual citizens. The IRCS has the technology to communicate and disseminate this information exchange, in short to sustain a communication bridge from those most in need to those most capable of providing assistance.
The PMI has started the broadcast of PSAs advertising the SMS two way information system. Local Radio services Radio Republic Indonesia RRI, Radio Dahra in Pariaman, Radio Elsi in Bukit Tinngi, and Gita Radio in Agam currently broadcast public service announcements five times a day on their respective radio outlets. The network of radio stations cover all disaster affected areas in West Sumatra. In addition, the PMI will give weekly updates on television service TVRI- Padang as well as Radio Republic Indonesia in Padang City.
Indonesian Red Cross PSP (psycho-social counselling teams) work the children through their trauma and uncertainties. Photo:Bob McKerrow
Pak Irman (right) and i have at least 20 meetings a day which are necessary to keep the operation moving ahead fast. Here Irman briefs helicopter pilots. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Most nights our technical working groups meet to review the days work and plan for the next. Then later in the evening, we have our full Red Cross coordination meeting. The days are long, the sleeps short, but we are having a huge impact in delivering clean water, selected foods, tents, tarpaulins, tool kits, clothing. blankets, kitchen utensils, plastic buckets, pots and pans, hygiene kits and providing medical and PSP (psycho-social counselling teams), and blood to hospitals . It's late evening and we have just finished our Red Cross coordination meeting and our planning is very much into early recovery and temporary or T - Shelter as we call it.
I am off for dinner with the British Red Cross logistics team to have a meal, and maybe a cold beer.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
The Red Cross earthquake operation in West Sumatra continues scaling up on the distribution of relief good while at the same time we continue consulting with communities to come uo with a sturdy emergency/transitional shelter until decisions are made by the Government to build permanent houses. Four shelter material design options, based on the use of bamboo, coconut wood or recycled wood, or a combination of these materials are being considered. For each option, with a design lifespan of six months, a full size demonstration unit of 16 sq. metres and one of 24 sq. metres will be erected on 14 October. Speed and ease of construction will be factors when selecting the final design. A different design may be needed if the programme moves into the city of Padang. While we have been working hard the last few days I cannot help thinking frequently of Ramlan, who is recovering in the hospital down the road in a hospital. I have asked one of our team to visit him tomorrow and see how we might be able to assist him, and others who lost limbs and have spinal injuries. We ran a special programmes after the Yogjakarta eathquake for the thousands of people suffering from spinal injuries. So much work to be done ! Here is the story about Ramlan:
Amid falling debris and trembling constructions as well as screams for help of thousands outside, a young man inside a building groaned with pain as the teeth of a saw sliced inch by inch his leg.
While dying of being trapped, Ramlan (18) was forced to saw off his own leg stuck under a piece of six-ton concrete rubble. He risked sawing his own leg to escape the greater peril of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake that devastated Padang city in Sumatra.
Losing his right leg from knee down had never crossed Ramlan`s mind when he left West Java`s Purwakarta a month earlier to eke out a living by working as a construction laborer in West Sumatra.
In his mind, jobs are hard to find nowadays. Working in a construction renovation project in Padang city, provincial capital of West Sumatra, was an inevitable choice for him to make both end meet. But fate tells him a different story. There, a quake `robbed` him of his right leg.
He was still lucky indeed for over 800 were killed by the earthquake. Unofficial estimates put the death toll at thousands as many could not be lifted out of the remains of collapsed buildings.
When the earthquake struck at 5.16 pm on September 30, 2009, Ramlan was working on the sixth floor of a Telkom building which was undergoing a renovation, in Jalan Khatib Sulaeman, Padang city.
Ramlan and his co-workers had no unusual feelings at all at that time. They were busy working in the renovation project. As the sun was slowly approaching the horizon while their tired faces had begun tenderly feeling a puff of evening zephyr, the earth trembled all of a sudden, palm trees gyrated, electric poles danced, buildings rocked and collapsed.
In the first trembler, people on the first floor of the Telkom building panicked and rushed out of the building. Within seconds, another strong tremor rocked the earth that was felt in all parts of the city. Cars in the parking lot swayed back and forth.
Ramlan and friends were in an unlucky storey on the sixth floor. A collapsed piece of concrete rubble almost buried Ramlan alive, but still, the piece, weighing about six tons and measuring 4x4 sq m, squeezed his right leg. He was stuck there, while his friends succeeded in running down the stairs.
"As I felt the second tremor, I tried to pull out but I can`t as my right leg was stuck under the rubble," Ramlan told RCTI television station on his bed in a hospital on Sunday.
What he had in mind was how to escape from the building and to survive the second tremor. But how, his leg was squeezed under the rubble. He looked around where he found a sand scoop and a hoe. The heroic young laborer reached them and decided to cut his leg off with the scoop.
Crying in pain under the rubble alone --as every body outside the building and everywhere in the city was also busy safeguarding him or herself--, Ramlan was trying to slice his leg with the scoop. It was too blunt. It did not work. Fresh blood continued to ooze out of his injured and crushed tiny leg. He took the hoe and chopped it up. He felt he was being stabbed with pain from head to toe. Still, he failed.
After half-an hour in the struggle, he found his cellular phone. "With the hoe I still can`t cut my leg. Then I found my cellular phone, I called my co-workers for help," he said.
His friends came up a moment later to help. They tried to lift the rubble. The heavy concrete slab even could not be shaken, let alone be removed. Amid their confusion, Ramlan asked for a saw and told them to saw his leg. But none of his friends was able to perform the job.
"I have no choice so that I did it myself. I felt some how a regret in my heart to cut my leg, but I have no other choice," he told Ruanghati.com online portal over the weekend.
While groaning in pain, Ramlan continued to saw his leg. The teeth of the saw sliced it inch by inch until he almost fell unconscious. Fresh blood rolled down on the floor. The ill-fated construction worker was unable to continue. Herman, one of his friends, forced himself to take over the job.
"I was surprised and sad to see him bathe in blood," Herman told VivaNews.com. He decided to accomplish the job as he could not stand to see Ramlan scream in pain. Ramlan`s request for Herman to cut off his leg forced him to act speedily.
"If we stay longer not to act, I am afraid Ramlan would lose his blood too much which could threaten his life," Herman said. After cutting off his leg, Herman carried poor Ramlan on his back and rushed him to the Selasih Hospital about 500 meters away from the Telkom building.
At the hospital, Ramlan did not immediately received medical treatment because the hospital was also heavily damaged by the earthquake, which also smashed hundred thousands of other buildings, including Ambacang hotel where hundreds of people were buried alive.
In the emergency condition, a doctor of the hospital gave Ramlan a first help. The wound on the tip of his cut-off leg was bandaged to avoid infection. He was admitted to the Dr M Djamil hospital before he was finally sent to the Yos Sudarso hospital for a proper medical treatment.
Now, Ramlan`s condition is gradually improving. But he was still traumatized with the nightmare when he remembered he sawed his own leg. Although he is now permanently invalid, he did not regret the event. He is resigned to his fate.
"What I want now is an artificial leg and to return home to met my mother immediately," he said.
A non-governmental organization in Jakarta, Patriot Nasional (Patron) according to Metrotvnews.com, has promised to bear all medical cost of Ramlan in the hospital and provided him with an artificial leg as well as financing his education if he wants to continue his study. Thanks to the Jakarta Post for permission to use Andi Abdussalam amazing article.
I just got news from Kathy that Ramlan has been released from hospital and is now back home in Central Java. What a remarkable recovery. I will ask the local chapter of PMI to follow up with hime and when I am back in Jakarta, I will try and visit he and his family. What an example of courgae and will to survive. I must ask him about 'The Third Man factor I have been writing about on this blog.'
Sunday, 11 October 2009
Indonesian Red Cross volunteers arrive in remote villages preparing for the big air lift today.
It's 6 a.m. on Monday morning. The big airlift is about to start. Yesterday we dropped Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) volunteers into remote mountainous villages in West Sumatra. It is a place where Sumatran tigers prowl with freedom. I have just been talking to Wayne Ulrich our ops manager. He says volunteers working alongside US Navy personnel are currently loading seven helicopters: Pumas, Black Hawks and Stallions. The Red Cross has been given priority by the US Navy. This will save us heaps of money as they are doing it free. We will be getting out noodles, hi-protein biscuits, tarpaulins, tents, family kits, hygiene kits, blankets and clothes.
I will keep you posted on this air lift. Meanwhile our 6 water purification units are pumping out 700,000 litres of clean water daily, the blood bank continues to give blood to hospital, the psychological counselling teams are moving through villages with puppet shows to help children cope with grief and stress, and medical teams are providing health services throughout the area.
Pak Irman from the PMI and Wayne Ulrich are doing a fantastic job and seem to survive easily on 4 hours sleep a night. these guys are pros and have collectively seen more disasters than many of you have had hot dinners.Searching for loved ones
I will keep you posted
Searching for loved ones
My colleagues Kathy Mueller, Canadian Red Cross, in Padang , wrote this really good story I would like to share:
They grab their gear - dark blue vests indicating they are volunteers for the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), face masks and long, pink rubber gloves to protect them from the scene they are about to enter. Theirs is not an easy job. They are part of the search and rescue teams, mobilized several times a day to try to find victims of last week’s earthquakes.
“It’s very rewarding and fulfilling to be part of this,” says one team member. “When we pull someone alive from the debris we are all very happy. We know we are making many families very happy.”
On this day, the team heads back to the site of a collapsed three-storey office building in the city of Padang. Dozens of people gather around, silently watching the very delicate excavation work. They’re looking for a woman, known to be buried among the rubble.
They grab their gear - dark blue vests indicating they are volunteers for the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), face masks and long, pink rubber gloves to protect them from the scene they are about to enter. Theirs is not an easy job
Pieces of debris
The big claw of the excavator rips away large pieces of debris, when rescue crews suddenly yell “stop”. They had found her, a young woman believed to be in her mid-20’s. Digging with their hands and small shovels, rescue crews - including volunteers from PMI - gently remove this earthquake victim and return her to her family.
She is one of 28 people pulled from the wreckage at this site alone.
Yopi Rizki knew he had to do something to help after surviving the quake. The 18-year-old from an area north of Padang, a region where the destruction is particularly bad. Those who have beds have moved them outside, seeking shelter under leaky tents and plastic sheets. Landslides have made some villages inaccessible. Massive fissures in the road show where the earth has literally been ripped apart.
Yopi Rizki knew he had to do something to help after surviving the quake. The 18-year-old from an area north of Padang, a region where the destruction is particularly bad.
So Yopi became a member of the search and rescue/recovery team, and we join him on his fifth evacuation. It’s to a small rural village that until a day earlier had been blocked off by a massive landslide. One house remains completely buried. Inside is a family of three - mother, father, and their 17-year-old son.
Yopi sits on the side of a hill, wearing a face mask, and watching as an excavator claws its way through the dirt. When asked to reflect on the fact that a boy very close to his age lies buried just metres away from where he now sits, Yopi chokes up. It’s a subject he says he just cannot discuss; it hits too close to home.
But it’s precisely because it hit so close to home that Yopi chose to join this team.
“I feel it inside my heart,” he says, quietly. “Yes, I am scared to see the victims. It makes me sad. But I know I am helping people and that makes me happy.”
With the recovery phase of the relief effort now switching to reconstruction, this team will not be as busy in the coming days. But Yopi says he will stay involved with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
This was the largest earthquake of his young life. He knows he will experience more. He wants to be better prepared to help both before and after a disaster. And he knows the Indonesian Red Cross can help him get there.
Friday, 9 October 2009
Yesterday we flew into remote villages for distribution and further assessment. Here Iyang Sukandar, secretary general of Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) talks to Rumalit whose house hangs over a precipice behind.Photo: Bob McKerrow
When I woke up Thursday morning, 8 October, I remembered it was four years ago that the huge earthquake struck near the border of Kashmir and killed 80,000 people in Pakistan and some thousands in India, I will never forget the smell of death, mainly from decomposing bodies that seeped into my clothes and skin and remained with me for days after. Coincidentally I am flying in to Padang with Vincent Nicod, Head of the ICRC in Indonesia, who worked with me throughout the Pakistan earthquake. On Thursday night coming home from a restaurant, I passed the hotel where diggers were dismantling the building in front of hundreds of grieving relatives hoping the bodies of their loved ones will be found. Some wildly hoped their child of relative will be brought out alive.
As I walked past the hotel, the evening breeze carried the smell of death and evoked sad memories of earthquakes I have worked in Afghanistan, Tonga, New Zealand, Tajikistan, Krygyztsta, India. Sri Lanka, Maldives, Uzbekistan and Pakistan on relief and recovery operations, and each has its own lasting characteristics. The West Sumatra quake is different for its high destruction and low death rate. Why that has happened, I am still at a loss to explain but perhaps it is the preparedness done since the last big quake here two years ago.
Curious villagers in Selegan Tinqqi, the last village that had not had contact with the outside world, throng around the helicopter. Photo: Bob McKerrow
I’ve been on the road for two days and have seen over fifty thousand severely damaged houses, hospitals, schools, hotels and buildings. The scarred landscape is strewn with rubble and the crumpled buildings look as if they have been scattered by the hand of a destructive giant. On Thursday I travelled by road with Irman and Rukman from the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) and yesterday I went by helicopter to badly affected mountainous regions.
A woman and her children show us what is left of her house. Photo: Bob McKerrow
My heart bleeds for those stoic survivors. What dignity they show. Yesterday when we flew into Selegan Tinqqi, the last village that had not had contact with the outside world, the people were surviving on fruit and vegetables. Their request was for ‘rice and chillies.” Here 300 people live. Only five people died but virtually every house is flattened. But their quiet dignity and orderliness was impressive. Two hundred people thronged around the chopper, but showed no demands or anger towards a world that had forgotten them. They were grateful and gave us gifts of coconuts. Pak Iyang the Secretary General of the PMI lifted a young girl up and let her play ‘in the bird that dropped out of the sky.’ We spent 45 minutes here preparing a heli pad for the large US Navy helicopters to land with bulk supplies in the coming days. At least 1,000 landslide spots in the Gunung Tigo highlands, where we spent 4 hours surveying yesterday, is located between Padang Pariaman and Agam districts. In at least three locations large scale landslides occurred destroying entire villages and agricultural land.
The mountain top village of Ambroang Gadang. The road slipped away and the village is cut off. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The worst site I visited was a mountain top village of Ambroang Gadang where a huge land slide carried away ten houses killing over 50 people. While I was there Government rescue teams recovered two more dead. I spent considerable time there with Pak Iyang, Pak Irman and Ebu Asweeth from PMI discussing needs and preparing another helipad for the big airlift starting tomorrow. My colleagues in the PMI are [providing exceptional leadership and take every opportunity to get out and innspire the 400 plus volunteers who are working round the clock.
Rescue workers toil away recovering bodies from the village of Ambroang Gadang that was buried by a land slide. Photo: Bob McKerrow
One of the best writersa in this earthquake is Thin Lei Win from Reuters Alert Net who gives her onservations:
I visited a remote village called Sungai Puar Tanjong Mutus in Pariaman District with the Red Cross on Monday. The road was not accessible the day before due to landslides.
Nestled among coconut trees, vegetation and paddy fields, the road to Sungai Puar Tanjong Mutus winds its way along numerous small villages, and there was destruction on both sides.
Indonesian students collect their books at their school on Oct 6, 2009 after it was damaged during an earthquake in Padang, West Sumatra. Photo: Reuters
One house was nothing but a pile of rubber, with bright coloured clothes in little bundles atop broken piles of wood and bricks. Landslides and earthquakes have left some places with fallen coconut trees, snapped power lines and flattened houses.
Then we got to the village, rather, to the road leading to the village. Landslides meant we had to walk through soft mud to what must have been a picturesque village surrounded by hills on one side and lush rice fields on the other.
Heavy machinery was at work, brought in not more than an hour ago, to clear an area where a house stood just a few days ago. The earthquake and subsequent landslide had buried the house and three family members - parents and their 17-year-old son.
People sat in front of their ruined houses - apparently almost all of the 150 houses were damaged - and under makeshift shelters watching the proceedings with a grim but matter-of-fact eye. Kids being kids, they were interested in the foreigners with gadgets and a gaggle of them followed us wherever we went.
There was also a young volunteer with Red Cross. He's 18 and he couldn't express his emotion and sorrow of the boy almost his age buried somewhere deep under the mud.
Soon after, the villagers got into the act, using shovels to get the dig while the machine moved to another area.
I left thinking of the boy in the mud and the boy outside waiting to evacuate his body. And of the grieving father who saw his two children swept away, the family at Cubadak Air village who were living under pieces of borrowed and ripped tarpaulin and the smiling Wati at Padang Karambia village whose attendance at a neighbour's wedding saved her life.
And of the villagers, who, despite living in one of the world's quake-prone areas and suffering a devastating disaster, remained cheerful and friendly. In every place we went, they offered us food, shared their stories and welcomed us with open arms.
This quake may not be as big as the one in Yogyakarta three and a half years ago or generate a tsunami in Indian Ocean like five years ago, but the loss and impact is no less painful. And it affects the rescuers, the rescued and the witnesses.
The relief operation will be scaled up in the coming days as more cargo flights arrive in Padang and a clearer picture of the situation appears through more comprehensive assessments. A USAID flight arrived in Padang with 45 tons of cargo last night and they have given it all to us. The PMI is currently distributing whatever relief stocks they have in Padang and family kits donated by AusAid.
Discussions are under way with the USS Denver from the United States Pacific Fleet to use their helicopters to airlift vital relief supplies to the communities affected in the three critical areas of V Koto KP Dalam, V Koto Timur and Sungai Geringging in Padang Pariaman who have received little or no relief aid so far due to their remoteness and inaccessibility. The three critical areas will be the focus of PMI’s airlift relief efforts over the next few days. Once the distribution plan is confirmed, the airlifts are expected to begin on 10 October. The USS Denver will also be assisting the Government of Indonesia as well as other NGOs who may need similar assistance.
An immediate challenge will be to get affected families into temporary shelters as soon as possible as part of the recovery process. Some villagers, unable or frightened to stay in their damaged homes, are living under plastic tarpaulins in front of their houses.
Red Cross has now distributed relief supplies to 2,200 families, that is over 10,000 people.
It is clear that the relief effort is largely being spear-headed by Red Cross, local NGOs, companies, religious organisations and individual well-wishers. Civil society plays an important and largely unrecognised role in filling the hunger gap in the first few days after any emergency.
The only problem was waiting half the day for the tide to come in so that the ship could rise high enough in the dock to be off-loaded.
Life goes on in remote mountain villages as people dry their spices and cocoa. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The Turkish Red Crescent are supporting the work of the MI in a village called Sikupa. It was chosen largely because no-one had been to help the 1,500 families that live there. Eighty per cent of the houses in the village had collapsed and about 20 families were camped out at the local mosque.
All the children of the village gathered with their mothers at the mosque and what followed was two hours of pure fun and laughter. The Red Cross team launched into a riotous puppet show that was interspersed with "follow the leader exercises". Punching the air stamping the ground and shouting the house down is a simple but effective way to help the children to let off steam.
The volunteers were giving special attention to some of the children in the audience. Widya Wiranti is a primary school teacher. Her school collapsed in the earthquake so she joined the Red Cross and now spends her time working with the PSP team.
The children suffer the worst and the Red Cross PSP programme slowly disolves their trauma. Photo: Bob McKerrow
She is a natural with children and is focusing on a little boy called Abi who is clearly suffering trauma. He clings to his mother as Wiranti goes into a role-play and gently coaxes him towards a picture book.
Abi's mother, Nelda, explains that he cries a lot and cannot sleep. Wiranti reassures her that this is normal behaviour after such as a traumatic event and encourages her to show him plenty of love and affection to help him cope.
It transpires that Abi's story has a bizarre twist. Exactly a week before the disaster he had a premonition that an earthquake was going to strike. His sixth sense predicted everything that subsequently happened with uncanny precision.
Abi with his Mum. Photo: Patrick Fuller
More good news. I learn that the Red Cross has now distributed relief supplies to 2,200 families, that is over 10,000 people.
Thanks to Patrick Fuller for support on this. I have gotta go. I hope this updates you on the complexities of a large relief operation
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Its 4a.m. in the morning. I got up an hour ago and packed for my trip from Jakarta to Padang. The flight leaves at 6 a.m. I just checked the boys who are sleeping soundly. They haven't seen much of their Dad since the quake struck just over a week ago. Last night my eldest boy Ablai said, "Dad, I don't want you to go." I have heard that many times but it never lessens the pangs of departure.
I have been in Jakarta the last few days working on an appeal to increase our support from the current 5,000 families to 20,000 families which is over 100,00 affected people. Last night we finalised the appeal and posted it on the web. It is almost 19 million US dollars. We have about US$ 7 million to date so I hope the remained will come in quickly from our very loyal member national societies.
This revised emergency appeal is in response to a request from the Indonesia Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia/PMI) to enable the national society to provide more relief and early recovery support to those most affected by the earthquakes. Since the preliminary appeal went out, casualty and damage figures have risen considerably, revealing increased needs which PMI is seeking to meet. The appeal seeks support to scale up and provide assistance to 20,000 families (100,000 individuals) through the continuation of relief distribution of non-food items, shelter, psycho-social support, water and sanitation intervention, health and medical provisions and logistics support.
If times permits I will post an update tonight. Gotta run to the airport. Bob
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
A young boy surveys all that is left of his house. Photo: IFRC
Yesterday we spent a lot of time discussing increasing the number of families we will be providing relief material to from 5,000 to 20,000. We will also target 20, 000 families which is approximately 100,000 people for tents and for transitional shelters which will see them through the next year or two until petrmanent houses can be rebuilt. That means our Appeal for help will increase from about US$6 million to US$17 million. A big part of Pak Iyang's and my job now is to raise that money so it entails a lot of meetings, lobbeying, report writing and negotiations. Today I got valuable assistance from Peder Danmm from the Danish Red Cross, Jean-Philippe Tizi, Canadian Red Cross, and Naomi from the German Red Cross. The way my colleagues from other national Red Cross societies pitch in and help so selflessly is something I have come to treasure in this organisation. Wayne Ulrich, our head of operations in West Sumatra is hanging in there strongly. We must of had ten phone conversations today, the first one at 6 a.m. on getting a second helicopter for today. I managed to get Colin Tuck in from his oil rig duties today and to fly food in to remote villages. To give a field perspective, I quote from Patrick Fuller, my communications coordinator on the ground and in the air in West Sumatra,
Patrick ravelled to remote villages close to the epicentre of last week's deadly quake in Indonesia and tells his story.
A good nights sleep at last! I was so exhausted I was oblivious to the mosquitoes and the snoring of my room-mate. Into the office by 7.30 to catch up with Wayne, who is co-ordinating our operation. He's concerned that there are still many settlements higher up in the hills where no help has reached.
I'm hoping to go up in our helicopter later but the heavens seem to be conspiring against me; it's been pouring with rain all morning. Not great for the soaking wet volunteers outside who are trying to load tarpaulins and blankets onto waiting trucks.
The weather means I can catch up on some correspondence. In these situations it's easy to forget that there are countless people on the other side of the world who are involved in the operation. Our headquarters in Geneva launched an emergency appeal to support 30,000 families over the next six months with food, clean water and shelter.
“ Every house below us has been flattened and villagers wave, not in greeting but in desperation ”
This means I need to work at making sure that the disaster remains high on the media agenda. I think we have a couple of days before they lose interest.
I talk to Wayne about the possibility of getting some journalists up in the chopper to visit our medical team at work. We agree that the team can be dropped and the pilot will make a double trip. I call the BBC to see if they can go at short notice; they're happy to but it's still pouring outside.
At midday I get word that the medical team has left and we should get down to the landing pad. I just manage to wolf down more cold rice and an incinerated fish (or was it chicken..?) before dashing to the helipad. Alistair Leithead, the BBC correspondent arrives with his cameraman DC and we're quickly in the air.
All of a sudden a whole new world opens up. Seeing the disaster scene from the air really brings home the scale of the damage as we fly northwest.
We fly over an ancient lava field. Over thousands of years the rivers of lava had turned into verdant green ridges, now scarred with brown gashes where the hillsides have simply slipped down into the valley below.
It's here that the damage is worst. Every house below us has been flattened and villagers wave, not in greeting but in desperation. We land in a paddy field to find the clinic. I was convinced the rotor blades were going to hit a palm tree but John the pilot, a cool-headed Kiwi, could clearly land on a sixpence.
No-one had reached the village because of numerous landslides which had blocked the road ahead and behind. When we arrived the team had just finished stitching up a long wound down the back of a three-year-old child who had been lucky to survive.
Back in the air we fly over a valley which looks like a war zone - bare hillsides with huge trees lying scattered at the bottom of the valley. We land where a large group of villagers are waving beneath us.
As they crowd around us, my colleague Hari from the Indonesian Red Cross asks them what help they need most.
As one they shout - 'RICE'. Their stocks have run out and they can't get out to the nearest town two hours away to buy more. The scene is interrupted by a comic-surreal moment as a dog-fight suddenly breaks out and Alastair goes flying in the melee.
Once we land back in Padang it's straight back to the office for a co-ordination meeting. A logistics Emergency Response Unit from the British Red Cross have arrived. Their job is to handle all the relief goods arriving by air and sea.
I recognise a couple of them - Jamie and Peter, veterans of countless disaster operations. We count the years since we last met. Despite the fact that we always meet in the worst places it's reassuring to know that the relief supplies are in good hands and will be quickly despatched to the field.
It's almost midnight, but I still have to share some photos I took from the helicopter with Reuters. Maybe tomorrow will be less hectic… somehow I doubt it.
"All of a sudden a whole new world opens up. Seeing the disaster scene from the air really brings home the scale of the damage as we fly northwest".
Photo: Bob McKerrow
Monday, 5 October 2009
Finally, we arrived at our destination, a mobile clinic set up by a doctor and eight nurses who worked at the Indonesian Red Cross hospital in Bogor in Western Java.
Volunteers of Indonesian Red Cross prepare meals for their colleagues who are working on evacuation process in Padang City. "It's hard to find any food shops open so we have lunch at a communal kitchen set up by the local authorities outside the local government office" "It is strictly no frills. Sitting cross-legged eating cold rice with a spicy sardine gravy with my right hand proves quite challenging". (photo by: Wayne Ulrich/International Federation)
Patrick Fuller of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies travels to an open-air clinic in Pariaman district, which was close to the epicentre of Wednesday's deadly quake in Indonesia
Off to an 0530 start this morning, thanks to the heat and mosquitoes in my airless room.
It was a slightly fretful night as I was conscious of staying on the second floor of a large concrete structure, perhaps not the best option given the continued aftershocks.
I wanted to visit one of the health posts set up in Pariaman district, which was at the epicentre of the quake.
The road was choked with a bizarre array of organisations wanting to do good, from a squad of teenagers on mopeds with Dynasty Computers delivering boxes of noodles to the homeless, to members of the Singapore armed forces and the Indonesian 4x4 club.
Most people here live along the road and house after house had collapsed. We came across Hans Polak from the Swiss Red Cross, who is the team leader for Swiss Rescue, a 125-member team who flew in with 18 search and rescue dogs.
Hans sees shelter as the main need for the recovery programme. He had just visited a village in the area where every one of the 168 houses had collapsed but remarkably only 4 people had died.
But 80% of their wells had been destroyed, so providing clean water is a priority need that the Red Cross will be addressing.
It's hard to find any food shops open so we have lunch at a communal kitchen set up by the local authorities outside the local government office.
It is strictly no frills. Sitting cross-legged eating cold rice with a spicy sardine gravy with my right hand proves quite challenging.
Finally, we arrived at our destination, a mobile clinic set up by a doctor and eight nurses who worked at the Indonesian Red Cross hospital in Bogor in Western Java. The clinic was operating out of an open shelter next to a semi-collapsed house.
Dr Arfan and his team had been seeing an average of 50 patients a day, about 20% had injuries stemming from the earthquake.
Nur Asmi was lying on the makeshift examination bed, smiling at me while a nurse squeezed a massive blood clot from a huge gash in her head.
Having had her wound stitched up she calmly hopped on her bike and cycled home.
She had been cooking the family supper when the earthquake brought her roof down. A beam struck her just before she managed to escape. Amazing, that she and her five children survived.
The roof was sitting awkwardly on the ground concealing the rubble of the house underneath.
Like many of the children in these villages her kids had laid a small branch across the road to slow the traffic.
They stand in the road holding out cardboard boxes with a scrawled message saying "we are hungry" written on it.
No-one is actually going hungry, but the earthquake has disrupted food supplies arriving into local markets and people are making the most of the passing well-wishers, who drive through dispensing bottled water, biscuits and dried noodles.
Tomorrow we are setting up a mobile kitchen in the area, just so that people can manage during these difficult days.
Saturday, 3 October 2009
Here are some photos I have taken in the last few days.
Damage in China Town, Padang. Below Photo: Bob McKerrow
More damage in China Town
<The main hotel that collapsed. It was a six story building compressed into one and a bit stories. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The PMI blood bank operates outside . (below)
A Swiss rescue worker at the airport with his dog awaiting deployment.
A village wiped out by a mudslides. Many deaths.
A water buffalo, oblivious to the damage, resents my arrival. The house in the background rests on the ground.
Typical amages in the remote and inaccessible areas below.
More damaged houses. Over 100,000 more like this below.
Bob McKerrow left, and Colin Tuck ( from Fox Gkacier NZ)our daring Kiwi helicopter pilot. Thanks to Tucky working closeby, we were able to start on aerial assessment within 15 hours, identify people dying because of crush injurues, and fly in doctors.
Chairman of PMI, Mar'ie Muhammad comforting a child in a very isolated village we visited by chopper. (below).
Here is the latest from the BBC website:
The closer you get to the earthquake's epicentre the worse the damage gets.
First the road becomes blocked to vehicles. Then even motorbikes cannot get through, and soon you can only walk and clamber over the landslides to reach the communities perhaps hardest hit by this disaster.
Homes were just swallowed up here as the quake shook the land from the hillsides, tearing down everything, destroying houses and crushing hundreds of people below tonnes of earth.
The size of the landslides are astonishing - massive tears in the jungle where soil and trees have been ripped from the slopes and dumped into the valleys.
Dawianis Ardo is digging. Others are helping him - smashing concrete beams with the back of an axe, pulling at debris with wire cable and shifting bucket-loads of soil from the hole.
The patch of earth, trees and concrete is what is left of three homes. One was empty, but the two crushed into each other and buried with earth from the mountain which slipped off into the valley were not.
Inside were nine adults and seven children - some of them playing marbles just outside the house when the earthquake struck.
"We found two bodies yesterday - they had been crushed to death - we expect to find the other 14 bodies today," he said.
They were his cousins.
"If we don't find them today I will dig for another five days - that will be a week - and then I will leave them to God."
Crushed to death
A path has been trodden across the face of the landslide where the road used to be and people were carefully making their way across.
I just sat here and prayed
The situation just worsened further along the track - more houses flattened, more landslides scarring the hillside and wider cracks in the road.
Zaimar sat outside her collapsed home as the men dug at the crushed wooden beams to big out their food supplies and possessions.
She described what it was like when the quake hit, kneeling down and showing us how she sat to stop herself falling as the shockwave threw everything and everybody around.
She began to cry - to sob - as she remembered those terrifying moments when she was convinced the world was going to end.
"I just sat here and prayed," she said, still crying uncontrollably.
Her family were all unhurt, but the shock has affected her deeply and her neighbours lost relatives in the rubble.
Waiting for help
At another landslide an ornately tiled porch stands now like a platform overlooking the valley below.
The home which was behind it is crushed and buried, along with it a family of 10 people.
Further along, the route is blocked by a house teetering on the edge of another gaping scar - the only way forward to the villages and communities ahead is through someone's front room.
One village is packed with people - all asking when the aid will come. A police helicopter circled overhead suggesting they have not been forgotten about.
But they feel abandoned and alone. They have rice and basic supplies, but with no electricity and a road it will take many weeks to repair, they are afraid of their new-found isolation, hoping help will come to them soon.
Three-thousand dead is what the government has estimated.
Here amid the destroyed homes, with so many stories of relatives being buried alive, it seems as though it could be even more.
Coordinations meetings. Our first coordination meeting.