Thursday, 30 September 2010
West Sumatra earthquake one year on.
The main hotel that collapsed. It was a six story building compressed into one and a bit stories. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Virtually to the minute one year ago, on 30 September 2009, two major earthquakes struck West Sumatra in Indonesia, killing more than 1,400 people and damaging 250,000 homes. More than 4,000 people were displaced from their homes and the Red Cross provided emergency relief to over 345,000 people until December 2009. Working closely with the Indonesian Red Cross and other Red Cross partners, the IFRC has been actively engaged in reconstruction efforts and 12,745 transitional shelters have currently been completed across four of the worst-affected districts. A beneficiary communication programme supported the overall recovery effort. Regular programmes produced by the Indonesian Red Cross and broadcast on community radio and local TV helped communities to have a much clearer understanding of the programme and gave them the opportunity to be heard.
The haunting memories I have are the hundreds of people crushed to death in a six-storied hotel that collapsed to only one floor, Ramlan who cut of his leg to free himself, Colin Tuck the New Zealand helicopter pilot who helped us with the major survey, and countless Red Cross volunteers who rescued people, disposed of dead bodies with dignity, and counselled traumatised children. Here are a few photos and words:
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.
The damage in Chinatown, Padang.
A Swiss rescue worker at the airport with his dog awaiting deployment.
A whole village wiped out by a mudslide, triggered by the earthquake.
Many house in the mountainous area collapsed totally.
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.
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.