by Kat Vallera*
“I saw houses destroyed instantly in front of my eyes,” describes Zamnia Firqah, who’d been home alone watching television Sunday evening in the Indonesian village of Kekait Gunungsari. She’d run outside from her living room after it started shaking, “I heard a tremendous roar, my reaction was to run away from collapsing buildings in fear.”
“They came out screaming, crying, others fell from their motorbikes,” Inulnovita Sari describes the chaotic scene that unfolded in the heart of Mataram, the largest city on the island of Lombok. Following an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale one week prior, islanders were caught off guard to encounter a 7.0 evil twin.
“Many buildings collapsed…The motorbikes collided.”
Intrepid Travel guide Adham Kompak had been with a friend in the Sambelia Subdistrict of East Lombok. Born and raised in the Ring of Fire, he says Sunday’s earthquake was more powerful than any other he’d experienced.
“I saw everyone coming out of the house shouting,” he recounts, “A few seconds later, the electricity went out. Everybody [was] running and screaming. Everyone was scared, they ran to the square to save themselves,” recalls Meilani Musleh, who’d been in Sakre Gelanggang with friends from university, “Everyone was saying our God’s name while running.”
“That’s when people remember the name of God,” discerns Inulnovita.
In total darkness, five strong aftershocks (4.9, 5.4, 4.7, 4.9, 4.3) occurred within the next 90 minutes, followed by another three major aftershocks (5.0, 4.6, 5.3) that transpired before dawn.
Ketapang beach resident, Lutfiya Al-Qarani, recalls shock as she and her mother fled to higher ground on a motorbike, falling over three times as aftershocks continued.
“There was chaos, people fled into open fields,” recounts aid worker Sahedul Islam, “A tsunami warning was sounded, this caused mass panic [and] fear. We had messages from staff telling us to pray for them. They were scared. My hands were shaking.”
While the impact on tidal currents was too minor to be of significance, it was enough to give Sahedul a deep sinking dread sensation in his chest. Even without any destruction inflicted by tsunami, the trauma to Lombok had already been inflicted.
100 Miles from the Epicenter
In neighboring Bali, the earthquake was felt strongly, as well. Sanur resident, Wiwik Hidayati, was preparing dinner with a friend. She’d just stepped outside to her garden when she heard neighbors screaming and shouting.
“The earthquake started slow. Then suddenly, it was moving hard. I thought it was finished, but [it] continued after going slow for a while. I realized it was going longer than in the past and the movement was much stronger.”
“It was hectic,” says Amelia Upito, who’d been perusing the upper level of the beachfront Discovery Shopping Mall with friends when the floor started trembling.
She recalls how her friends panicked as people went running. It wasn’t long before she was separated from her friends in the chaos. Amelia says it was the longest earthquake in her life and estimates that it lasted for approximately six minutes.
Then came the tsunami warning, from which her memory is vivid of hearing the sound of people running for their lives once again. This time, the stampede came from behind as they scrambled to distance themselves from the beach.
500 Miles from the Epicenter
“I felt the tremor in Surabaya,” says Akhyari Hanato, founder of Good News from SEAsia, who’d been at home watching television, “I immediately knew it was an earthquake but was shocked to learn it happened in Lombok.”
Recorded by USGS, Sunday’s seismic event in Lombok packed so much punch that shaking was reported as far as East Java. To put this in perspective, imagine if there was an earthquake in San Francisco that toppled buildings in Sacramento and rattled Santa Barbara.
“I’ve felt many tremors in my life,” Akhyari adds, “So when I could feel that in Surabaya, I knew it was very serious.”
The chaotic evacuation of more than 3,000 people from the Gili Islands, a popular holiday archipelago off the coast of Lombok, has received widespread attention. Yet, the exodus of more than 10,000 foreigners from the “tourist island” of Lombok is nothing compared to the more than 3 million residents who remain in the midst of humanitarian crisis.
“This earthquake is more serious than earthquakes in the past because the damage to buildings is so severe,” says Zamnia. It’s estimated up to 80% of structures in north Lombok have been leveled.
“Lombok is devastated,” declares Meilani, “I saw a lot of houses that were flattened to the ground.” It’s speculated that approximately 270,000 residents are now homeless.
Zamnia’s family are among those who’ve been displaced. They’re taking refuge at an evacuation post surrounded by other survivors she describes as “traumatized”. Zamnia expresses gratitude because her family is alive as well as anxiety for the aftershocks. Meilani shares a similar story; having reunited with her family, she relates the same fears.
“Many people traumatized,” mentions Fadullah Wilmot, Head of Mission to Lombok for Muslim Aid, “In some places, 100% of the houses have been destroyed [and] people are still inside.” The unease has been substantiated by more than 355 aftershocks, including a 6.2 magnitude that happened on Thursday.
The island’s hospitals were destroyed in the earthquake, as well, leaving medical personnel no option but to treat injuries on the street. Australian firefighter Craig de Mellion was on holiday in Lombok when the disaster struck, prompting him to volunteer as one of the disaster’s first responders. Craig describes how many of the casualties arrived to the hospital still alive only to perish for lack of emergency care and sterile facilities.
Casualty estimates are approaching 400 and rising as clean water becomes scarce and injuries go untreated. Areas with severe damage are still without electricity and telecommunications. It would be premature to gauge the full scope of this disaster so long as access to rural communities is halted.
Debris from crumbled structures is strewn across narrow streets, blocking crucial transit arteries. Due to the obstruction to roadways, collapsed bridges, and threat of landslides, tens of thousands of survivors have yet to receive assistance in the wake of this horrific natural disaster.
“The small villages haven’t gotten donations,” pleas Lutfiya, “Many people still need it, especially victims who are sick.”
The struggle to overcome obstacles for transportation is exasperated by the significant lack of available resources. This may be attributed to the reluctance to request international assistance. Also relayed has been the absence of strategy, which goes hand-in-hand with inadequate emergency management.
As a result, a shockingly low amount of humanitarian aid is being distributed. In lieu of medical supplies and basic necessities for survivors, one witness notes a disproportionate amount of response consists of dogs to sniff for corpses and bulldozers to clear wreckage.
Emergency relief items that are vital include food, clean water, tents, and blankets, as well as basic hygiene and sanitary products. More desperately critical is the immediate demand for medicine, doctors, and medical supplies.
The good news is Lombok’s airport is open, prompting a call for volunteers with emergency medical and/or disaster response experience. Those who want to help but aren’t qualified are encouraged to fund relief and donate to the Indonesia Earthquake Emergency Appeal.
“If we have more funds we can respond more,” Fadullah explains, “To provide for the immediate needs of the affected population and support in their recovery.”
By and large, Lombok’s relief effort is currently driven by local fundraisers and crowdsourcing campaigns. Based on experience working for disaster response agencies in the past, Akhyari recommends donating to an organization that’s already on the ground with proven transparency. International organization Muslim Aid is one such agency that meets these criteria.
“Muslim Aid has long experience in working with communities affected by disasters and has developed a very rigorous policy to ensure the accountability and transparency of its work,” maintains Fadullah, “The generous support provided by the community is utilized in the most cost-effective and efficient manner bringing maximum benefit to those affected.
“In disasters, one feels overwhelmed by the courage of first responders.” Muslim Aid’s local team was among the first to responders in Lombok, even posting a video that appeared alongside Facebook’s Safety Check.
So long as sustainability is considered for investments to rebuild, Fadullah is optimistic that tourism will make a comeback. Adham also believes that this too shall pass. He looks forward to the day he can guide visitors once again to discover Lombok’s scenic nature and warmhearted culture. Reciting a proverb that had been bestowed to him by his parents:
“The sound of a storm must have passed, which means all calamities will surely end.”
Special thanks to Widdati Syukri
*Award Winning Travel Agent and Journalist ( IG@katvalleratravel Tweet@katvalleratrvl )
Originally published in TravelPulse.com titled "In Their Words: Indonesian Earthquake Survivors Wait for Aid, Mourn"