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Field Account from Sulawesi Indonesia

Ummah Welfare Trust fieldworker, Basharat Hussain, gives a detailed of account of the situation on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi following the massive earthquake here in late September.

Travelling for nearly two days had left me sleep deprived and exhausted but the sight of my final destination would jolt my senses leaving me wide awake and struggling to sleep at night.

My final destination? Central Sulawesi, Indonesia where the recent tsunami and earthquake had left its mark, the mark of utter devastation. The road to Donggla an affected area, snakes up the mountain side and as it comes closer to the coast line you can clearly see the devastation, all around me were flattened buildings, mingled cars and destroyed homes.

It was hard to believe that nature could cause such horrific sights in a mere matter of minutes. As we travelled I saw a 20ft shipping containers crushed to pieces, a boat that had been flung across land and high rises now nothing more than debris.

The only thing that wasn’t crushed was the spirit of the people. Their strength and motivation to rebuild helped me to see ways to help and support. We soon set up a bustling hub of a distribution. The language barrier was broken down by the united goal of rebuilding. The vast task ahead had begun, to bring some sort of semblance of life back again.

We started with the distribution of the Ummah Welfare shelter kits, along with food packs and hygiene kits in various locations. The force of nature had left many homeless. Most of the people I saw were sleeping out in the open or under make shift tents so the shelter kits gave much needed relief. I met an elderly lady who had mentioned part of her house had collapsed and along with her husband and extended family they had been staying in a make shift tent with eight people sharing in total.

Following our distribution I took a walk around the area and met the same woman again. She had already erected the shelter we had just distributed and was keen to show us. Her old, frail husband had deteriorating eyesight and both were very grateful for the support they received. The joy on her face from receiving a shelter kit when just days earlier she had lived in a solid home was unbelievable.

Many of the people I met didn’t know the procedure to follow in regards to obtaining government help. So many had lost all their possessions and are unable to produce documentation that may be required. The earthquake caused major soil liquefaction in areas in and around Palu.

In two locations this led to mud-flows in which many buildings became submerged causing hundreds of deaths with many more missing. A mother recalled her horror when she had to carry her two young children, one under each arm, as the ground started to shake underneath her. Instructing her mother in law to hold on to her garments, they managed to get to safety. Unfortunately her sister in law wasn’t as lucky and is still missing along with thousands of others. They’ve managed to salvage what they could and have erected a temporary shelter some distance away.

The horror and grief hasn’t left their faces and already they are facing a new problem. The aftermath of such a destruction. Whilst we were conducting our distribution, men in protective suits covered from head to toe were spraying liquid around the disaster zone to try and stop any diseases from spreading.

The recovery is only just beginning and it will be a long time before the area is back to its former state but with some help we can get there quicker. Like the lesson I’ve learnt from the people here, united together we can rebuild. United together we can gain strength and work for a better future.

(Basharat Hussain in Palu, Indonesia)