Saturday, 3 October 2009


It's almost 2 am on Sunday morning. Yesterday, Saturday 3 October is one of those days etched in my life and brain forever.

I nabbed 4 hours sleep last night and woke up restless thinking of all those people trapped under buildings in Padang, perhaps 2000 of them. who knows. I awoke about 5.30 am, had breakfast with Pak Irman from the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) and then went walkabout alone.

50 metres down the road a six story building is crumpled into one story. Like a squashed tube of tooth paste, the other floors ooze out the side in the form of pulverized rubble. No one has come out alive yet and I am told that 20 people are in there.

I WALK FOR AN HOUR SEEING DEATH AND DESTRUCTION. THANK GOD THE SWISS RED CROSS/GOVERNMENT TEAM HAVE WORKED THROUGH THE NIGHT WITH THEIR LOCATER DOGS AND SEEM OPTIMISTIC. Red Cross people from 8 countries have come to help. We are starting to get on top of the relief phase but a huge task ahead of us. I have ordered another helicopter today so the PMI medical people can get out to those villages cut off and make sure people don't die of injuries and infection. Juggling priorities is difficult.

I don't want to dwell much more on the death I have seen, but in a trip to China town where a high school collapsed, 20 or so girls in fresh bright uniforms stand outside their flattened school, hoping, willing and praying their class mates will be rescued. Hope diminishes by the minute as tears flood down their round cheeks.

The Indonesian Red Cross Blood Bank continues work outside after their building collapsed. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The PMI blood bank collapsed in the quake and I visited it with Pak Mar'ie, Chairman PMI. Outside on the forecourt, Red Cross blood transfusion experts take blood out in the open. The 200 units they have taken in the last few days have saved many lives. I lie down on a bed and give a bag full. It is a token gesture but I feel better after that. That's me, its not the organisation. People take my blood, a pound of fles here or there, but I give it when I choose.

Then down to the Red Cross HQ. A hive of activity. I run out of words when i see these volunteers giving all. The most difficult task are the rescue people who have to take the dead bodies out of the rubble and with dignity, put them in bags, and take them to the morgue for identification. But I was talking to one of the team and he said,"whole bodies are rare, we find a hand there, a finger here, another part there, and we try to make sure we keep the complete person in one bag." It is so important for the relatives to see their whole relative," he said in such a caring way. I admire his commiyment to human dignity.

I need some sleep so I will paste from Al Jazeera. I had a brief interview with Veronica Pedrosat today.

Rescuers are continuing to dig through the rubble of collapsed buildings on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, several days after a deadly earthquake struck the region, but officials say hopes of finding survivors alive are rapidly diminishing.

Only a handful of survivors had been pulled from the rubble by Saturday, three days since the 7.6 magnitude quake toppled tens of thousands of buildings in the coastal town of Padang and surrounding villages.

Up to 4,000 people are believed to be trapped under the rubble following Wednesday's earthquake, the United Nations estimates.

Villages wiped out

Jusuf Kalla Indonesia's vice-president said he did not expect many more people to be pulled alive from the devastated landscape.

"Most people here are trapped and buried inside buildings. You cannot hope for more survivors. I think most of them have died," Kalla, speaking during a visit to Pariaman, north of Padang, told reporters.

Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from Tandikat in Pariaman, said that three villages had been completely wiped out after a hillside collapsed during the quake.

"What we can see here now is just a scene of absolute devastation - it is covered with mud, dirt after landslides came tumbling down into the valley," he said.

"There really isn't even any sign of debris here, just mud and trees."

Rescue workers were unable to reach the area, normally just a 90 minute drive from Padang, for two days because the roads were cut by landslides and debris.

"We have seen a very small number of military people here and they have one digger, one piece of heavy equipment ... so it is going to be a long road ahead," Hay said.

Estimates of how many people were killed in Pariaman vary, with one tribal chief telling Al Jazeera that at least 300 had been killed.

Bob McKerrow, the head of the Indonesia delegation of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, said aerial photos showed the extent of the damage in the mountainous outlying regions.

He said hundreds of villages were in the disaster zone, and that the few he had visited had all reported deaths and serious injuries.

"Typically in every village, there's an old woman with a broken back with a gash on her arm and she's not moving. That's why we're sending in helicopters with medical teams," he said.

Death and destruction

The official death toll for the region currently stands at 777, with hundreds more injured.

More than 20,000 buildings have been destroyed and 2,400 people hospitalised across seven districts, Priyadi Kardono, a spokesman for the national disaster agency, said.

Al Jazeera's Veronica Pedrosa, reporting from Padang, said that foreign aid teams were continuing to arrive at the town's airport and still believed that some of the victims could be found alive.

"It is going to be very difficult for anyone to have survived beneath the rubble, but experts say it is possible on the fourth day depending on the injuries sustained, the strength of the person involved and whether they have managed to get drops of water," she said.

"There are signs of life here and that is confirmed by the international rescue teams with their sniffer dogs."

A number people were believed to be trapped under the rubble of the ruined Dutch-colonial era Ambacang Hotel in the town.

"We think there are eight people alive in there. One sent an SMS to a relative in a village, who got the text at 3pm [08:00 GMT] yesterday," Arkamelvi Karmani, an army officer involved in the rescue operation, said.

The message reportedly called for help and implored rescuers: "Be careful that the excavator doesn't cause the building to collapse on us."

Rescuers were building a tunnel into the rubble to try to reach them.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
Kia kaha to you and those whom experiences you share here. My prayers go out to all.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Kia Ora

Thanks for your prayers and thoughts. There are many tough days ahead but the joy on people's faces when you give them medical treatment, a tent or transfuse their child with fresh blood, makes it all worthwhile.