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After the flood

October 3, 2018 - Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia - The Landmark Arkam Babu Rahman Floating Mosque which has fallen into the sea after the earthquake and tsunami. A deadly earthquake measuring 7.7 magnitude and the tsunami wave caused by it has destroyed the city of Palu and much of the area in Central Sulawesi. According to officials, the death toll from the devastating quake and tsunami rises to 1,347, around 800 people in hospitals are seriously injured and some 62,000 people have been displaced in 24 camps around the region. (Credit Image: © Hariandi Hafid/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire)


The Arkam Babu Rahman mosque, which has fallen into the sea after an earthquake and tsunami

Hariandi Hafid was supposed to be in Palu on the day the city was hit by an earthquake and tsunami. “I was meant to be at the opening day of the Palu Nomoni cultural festival, but I was given an assignment elsewhere that I was contractually obliged to take,” Hafid recalls. “I was thankful I wasn’t there when it happened, but I had friends in Palu and I didn’t know if they were safe.”

The day after the disaster Hafid decided to travel to Palu. “I couldn’t get there by car, plane or boat. The airport was initially open only for military flights and then victims’ families and medical personnel were prioritised for passenger flights,” he recalls. Hafid eventually reached the city of 330,000 people on 1st October. “The plane was so full, there were no free seats, so I stood by the window,” he says. “When we arrived at Palu airport I saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of displaced people on the side of the runway. They were mostly women, children and people with injuries, in wheelchairs and on stretchers. Some of them were pleading for water. They wanted to leave Palu as soon as possible.”  What Hafid saw on Palu was shocking. “This photo [right] is of Arkam Babu Rahman mosque, known as the ‘Palu Floating Mosque’ because it used to be supported by 25 pillars over the Makassar Strait,” he says. “The supports were broken by the earthquake, causing the building to fall into the sea.”

A ship stranded on land after the earthquake and tsunami in Wani village

The remains of Ponulele Bridge, known as the Yellow Bridge

Earthquakes are very common in Sulawesi, which sits on the ‘Ring of Fire’, a grid of tectonic activity around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. But the tsunami came as a surprise because the fault line here is a ‘strike-slip’ fault, where sections of the Earth’s crust shift horizontally; most tsunamis occur when plates move vertically.

The power of the unexpected tsunami, which unleashed 20-foot-high waves towards the city, was phenomenal. “I took this photo [top above] in the Port of Wani area in Palu,” says Hafid. “It’s the Sabuk Nusantara 39 passenger ship. Eyewitnesses say that it was in the port area when the tsunami hit and it was dragged almost 100 metres from the pier [where it was docked]. I was amazed to see a boat of that size on land.”

“This photograph [above] is of the Ponulele Bridge, one of the most famous landmarks in Palu,” says Hafid. “The locals were really proud of it because it was the first arch bridge in the country. Here you can see locals walking on the collapsed structure.”

The disaster wiped out much of the infrastructure in the area. According to Indonesia’s disaster management agency, more than 4,400 buildings collapsed in the city of Palu alone, and more than 68,000 homes across Sulawesi were damaged or destroyed. “A number of public facilities and government offices [in Sulawesi] were damaged to the point they weren’t suitable for use,” says Hafid. “In some villages I visited as many as 95 percent of buildings were damaged.”

Victims of the earthquake and tsunami at Anutapura hospital in Palu

A scene of devastation near Talise Beach and Ponulele Bridge

“Here [top photo] you can see two soldiers helping a victim at Anutapura hospital in Palu,” says Hafid. “Although this is actually happening in the hospital yard because its buildings were so damaged they could not be used.” Hafid was shocked by what he saw at the emergency shelters set up around Palu.

“Many victims had nothing but the clothes they were wearing,” he recalls. “There was no electricity, no food and a lack of clean water, which made everything so difficult, and these problems were compounded by the scarcity of fuel.” This sense of desperation, Hafid explains, led to some looting in the days following the disaster.

“This girl [middle image] is Marsya Dewi Indah and she is nine,” Hafid says. “I met her while she was being treated at an emergency tent at Anutapura hospital. Her grandmother was the only person with her. She was with her family on Talise Beach when the tsunami struck and she was dragged down by the water but she survived by holding onto her father, who also survived. Her mother and sister were officially declared missing. I’m sure it will take the children who experienced the tragedy a long time to recover. I can’t begin to imagine the psychological impact.”

“This man [above] was driving a motorbike not far from Ponulele Bridge,” says Hafid. “I’m not sure if he was looking for members of his family, or just checking out the damage. Getting fuel for vehicles wasn’t easy. It became available around a week after the disaster, and people would queue up to 12 hours to get five litres.”

“Residents told me that some houses that collapsed after the earthquake sank to a depth of 20-30 metres into the sea,” says Hafid. Many homes in the villages close to Palu were not immediately affected by the earthquake or the tsunami, but were later swallowed up by the ground when the soil they sat on turned into liquid mud. Over 1,700 homes were destroyed by this phenomenon of ‘liquefaction’ – driven by tremors breaking down saturated ground – in the village of Balaroa alone. Local survivors are referring to this third natural disaster to hit the island as a “land tsunami”.

Agustin and her husband in the ruins of their home

“This photo [above] is of a woman called Agustin,” says Hafid. “She and her husband were looking for items from their collapsed house which they could still use. The ruins of the house had shifted a few hundred metres from its original location.”

As of early November, over 170,000 people are displaced in Sulawesi. Over 2,000 people are known to have died, with the majority of the deaths happening in the city of Palu. Over 1,000 people are still missing. It will take many years for Palu to rebuild from the earthquake, tsunami and liquefaction. Locals are divided on whether to be part of the recovery process. “Some people, like Agustin, are choosing to rebuild,” says Hafid. “But others want to leave and begin a new life somewhere else.”

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