Asia Pacific

Year after quake and tsunami, Indonesians struggle

Thomson Reuters Foundation, AFP-JIJI

Tens of thousands of Indonesians are struggling to rebuild their lives a year after a powerful earthquake and tsunami caused widespread devastation, with many still homeless and schools unable to reopen, aid groups said on Saturday.

The city of Palu, on the island of Sulawesi, was devastated by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and the tsunami the quake unleashed on Sept. 28 last year, killing more than 4,000 people.

The force of the earthquake leveled entire neighborhoods through liquefaction — a process in which quivering wet ground starts behaving like a liquid, similar to quicksand, and swallows up objects on the surface.

The tsunami then destroyed fishing boats, shops and irrigation systems, robbing locals of their income.

Humanitarian aid poured in after the disaster, but local charities said survivors are still living in makeshift accommodation and children cannot return to schools. They called for rebuilding efforts to be stepped up.

“Children long for a sense of normality,” said Dino Satria from the charity Save the Children Indonesia, which estimated that two-thirds of about 1,300 local schools are still damaged.

“They continue to be traumatized by the disaster, as they cannot go back to schools, cannot return to their normal routine as a way to help them overcome their trauma,” the operation director said by phone from Palu.

Satria urged authorities to speed up reconstruction efforts, but a local education official said the task is enormous without sufficient funding, although rebuilding schools is a top priority.

“Sadly, we are restricted by a lack of funds. I need an additional $11 million just to rebuild the schools in Palu City. The task at hand is immense,” Ansyar Suitiadi, the head of education in Palu said in a statement by Save the Children.

The Indonesian Red Cross estimates 57,000 people in Palu are homeless and continue to live in camps and temporary shelters.

“We are hoping the government will redouble their efforts to identify settlement areas and help thousands of families,” Jan Gelfand, Indonesia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement.

Many of the people still living in temporary shelters wonder if they will ever have a home again.

“I’ve been living in this tent since the quake struck,” said Ela, a mother of four. “It’s been really hard. My kids got sick, it’s hot and sometimes we have to sleep on wet ground after it rains. The kids’ father is still working, but we can’t afford to buy mattresses.”

Nani, another mother of four kids, said her home was destroyed in the disaster. “I don’t know if I’m going to get permanent housing,” she added.

The nation of 260 million, which sits on the Pacific’s seismically active “Ring of Fire,” often experiences deadly earthquakes and tsunamis.

The twin quake-and-tsunami tragedy that hit Palu last year came one month after the Indonesian resort island of Lombok was rocked by quakes that flattened villages and killed more than 500 people.

Fifteen years ago, a quake off the island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 in 14 countries — more than 120,000 of them in Indonesia.

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