After a Quake and Tsunami—Aid to Palu, Indonesia

In September 2018, a shallow earthquake in central Sulawesi, Indonesia, generated a tsunami and led to soil liquefaction. The area was devastated. Tzu Chi delivered aid to the disaster area following the catastrophes.

A magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck central Sulawesi, Indonesia, on September 28, 2018. The temblor resulted in soil liquefaction and a devastating tsunami. Combined, the calamities resulted in more than 2,000 deaths and displaced over 80,000 people.

Palu, the capital and largest city of the province of Central Sulawesi, was hit especially hard. It sits at the end of a long, narrow bay, located a mere 78 kilometers (50 miles) from the quake’s epicenter. The tsunami devastated coastal areas of the city. Mudflows, caused by the soil liquefaction, toppled many buildings in the villages of Petobo and Balaroa in Palu.

As long as two weeks after the quake, workers operating heavy machinery were still hurrying to clear damaged thoroughfares and remove debris in the city.

A resident leaves a Tzu Chi distribution site in Palu with a smile. A major earthquake and tsunami resulted in heavy devastation in the city in September 2018. Tzu Chi volunteers promptly mobilized to help those affected.

Makassar, Sulawesi

Makassar, located in South Sulawesi, is the most populous city on the island of Sulawesi. Tzu Chi volunteers have long carried out charity work in that city. On September 30, two days after the quake, volunteers there learned that many injured people from Palu, about 300 miles to the north, had been delivered to hospitals in Makassar. Eight volunteers jumped into action to offer care and help to the injured and their families from out of town. Members of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) from Jakarta arrived in Makassar soon after. Working with local volunteers, they visited two hospitals, RS Sayang Rakyat and RS Wahidin.

“The ground seemed to roll when the earthquake hit,” recalled Silvana, a woman from Palu, as she recounted her harrowing experience to visiting Tzu Chi volunteers at RS Wahidin. “My husband and I ran for our lives with all our might. As we were running, we saw a section of the asphalt road right next to us crack open and then close again, like a mouth opening and closing. When my husband stopped to help me, a power pole fell on him. His head was injured, but luckily the wires were not live. We got up and continued to run.”

A military aircraft had flown Silvana and her husband to Makassar, where the latter, seriously injured, was quickly treated. Silvana thanked all the people who had helped them, including the Tzu Chi volunteers who were visiting them. “Thank you for the emergency cash,” she said to the group. “It is a big help for us.”

Slightly injured people each received a million rupiah (US$66) from Tzu Chi, and those who were seriously injured received twice as much. Volunteers bought and distributed to victims such necessities as food, drinking water, toiletry items, and clothes. Powdered milk and diapers were also provided to those with children.

Volunteers met Muhamad Salle at RSUD Kota Makassar, another hospital. “My wife and I had just finished our prayers when the quake struck,” he told the visitors. “We immediately rushed out the door. I went back home later to salvage some belongings, but the ground shook again. People outside shouted that a tsunami was coming. I ran for my life again, but due to a leg injury, I didn’t get very far before the waves caught up with me. I thought I was as good as dead, but, Allah be praised, I survived.”

Muhamad Salle thanked the volunteers for the emergency cash. He knew no one in Makassar, so he was particularly grateful for the volunteers’ care and help. He said that the money would come in very handy for him and his family.

Palu, Sulawesi

Palu was essentially cut off from the outside world in the immediate aftermath of the quake and tsunami because of damaged roads and infrastructure. Military aircraft became the sole means of delivering supplies into the area and bringing the injured out. Tzu Chi volunteers in Jakarta immediately prepared relief supplies and 200 kilograms of medicine for the victims, and after much effort they had them delivered to the disaster area.

Volunteers in Taiwan sprang into action too. Nuns at the Jing Si Abode, eastern Taiwan, rushed to pack instant rice. At two Tzu Chi facilities in Neihu and Sanchong, both in northern Taiwan, volunteers packed blankets into shipping boxes. Those supplies—ten thousand blankets and 8.4 tons of instant rice—were flown to Jakarta on October 4 and then delivered to Palu, 1,650 kilometers (1,030 miles) away, via military aircraft, by trucks, or even by hand, carried by Tzu Chi volunteers.

After the instant rice had arrived in Palu, volunteers from Jakarta, Kota Medan, and Biak joined local volunteers and began providing hot food for victims. Volunteer Jhony Rao (饒金華), a chef, led the group in preparing the food. When the food was ready, they delivered it to hospitals and shelters for survivors to eat for lunch and dinner.

“If we gave them raw rice, they would have had to find liquefied gas, cooking oil, and other ingredients to cook—all hard-to-find things now,” Rao said. “That’s why we cook our instant rice, dish it out into individual servings, and distribute it to them while the food is still hot.”

The food was welcomed by recipients. Children in a shelter in Petobo ate up the food volunteers distributed and exclaimed, “This really tasted good!”

Most shelters consisted of nothing more than structures made of tarpaulins and wooden poles. Despite makeshift living conditions like this, Nur Fatimah was content and grateful. Her daughter, living in Petobo, had been due to give birth when the earthquake hit. When soil liquefaction triggered by the quake toppled the daughter’s home, Nur Fatimah thought that she had lost her daughter to the calamity. Fortunately, the daughter and her family escaped, and she gave birth to a baby boy the day after the quake. When Nur Fatimah rushed to Petobo after the quake to seek out her daughter and her family, she was happily reunited with them. She also learned to her immense delight and relief of the birth of her new-born grandson.

When Tzu Chi volunteers visited their tent, they saw that the ground in it was bare, so they gave them carpets to put on the ground. The family had nothing except the clothes on their backs, so they were very grateful for the gift. They also thanked the volunteers for the hot food and said that it was the best they had eaten since the quake.

More than 500 aftershocks followed the strong earthquake. Most people were too scared to stay indoors, and they preferred to take shelter outside. Many houses were too damaged for habitation anyway. Tzu Chi volunteers set up care stations to accompany the victims during this hard time.

When it was mealtime, volunteers boiled water, put instant rice in cooking pots, and everyone began to wait expectantly. When the rice was ready and the covers lifted, the fragrance filled the area. “Delicious. Tastes just like fried rice,” one of the residents said. “This hot food is proper for us Moslems. Thank you.”

Nuns at the Jing Si Abode, in Hualien, eastern Taiwan, prepare boxes of instant rice for delivery to the Taoyuan International Airport in northern Taiwan to be flown to Indonesia. Huang Si-jia


The first Tzu Chi group arrived on military aircraft in Palu on October 3. Courtesy of Tzu Chi Indonesia


A woman received hot food at a temporary kitchen set up by Tzu Chi volunteers in the disaster area. Khusnul Khotimah


A cluster of tents where disaster victims live on the outskirts of Palu

Free medical services

In addition to distributing hot meals and supplies, Tzu Chi provided free medical services to victims in the disaster area. A group of TIMA physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and support volunteers pitched the tents they had brought and began treating the needy in Palu. Some of them also broke into small groups and visited different shelters to care for those who had been injured and were less mobile. As they did this, they were often approached by people who led them to additional people in need of treatment.

Most patients the physicians saw at shelters had injuries, such as bruises or open wounds. The medical professionals also noticed that diseases that tended to spread in a crowd, such as colds, had begun to emerge. Some people with chronic conditions were short on medication. The TIMA members tended to these people’s needs and provided medicine.

The TIMA volunteers also served the villages of Kumbasa and Sumari in Donggala, an area that was closer than Palu to the epicenter of the 7.5 magnitude quake. Most of the homes of the 600 families in the two villages had been destroyed by the quake. The volunteers found that villagers needed more than just medical assistance, so they visited the villages again on October 12 with relief supplies. They gave each family instant noodles, dry food, bottled water, rice, and personal hygiene products. They also gave big tents and solar power panels to the villages because their power had not been restored.

In all, volunteers held more than ten aid distributions in the disaster area; by October 18, 2018, they had provided 5,071 packets of goods. TIMA members served 1,554 patient visits.

But many more victims still need help. The road to recovery is long.

Tzu Chi Indonesia and the Indonesian military have signed a memorandum of understanding to build, with the help of local entrepreneurs, 3,000 permanent housing units in Palu, Donggala, Kabupaten Sigi, and Lombok. (The last area had been badly damaged in an earlier quake, in August). Hopefully, with everyone’s help, the disaster areas will soon be back on their feet. 

TIMA members provided free medical services in the village of Peboya. Arimami Suryo Asmoro


November 2018