Surviving the loss - the Sumatra earthquake

© Juan-Carlos Tomasi

“Several villages around Tandikat, up in the hills north of Pariaman, were devastated by a landslide after the earthquake. Everything is gone and aid has been slow to arrive because most of the roads have been destroyed. This also makes search and retrieval operations difficult, especially to bring in much-needed heavy machinery to clear the rubble.

“People who have lost members of their family are still waiting for the bodies to be retrieved five days after the earthquake struck. Every morning, they return to the ruins of their homes and sit the whole day waiting for the search teams. They won’t leave to eat, and volunteers take food to them. It appears that everybody in every village has been affected in some way. Most have lost their entire homes and all their belongings. But, it is far worse for those waiting for bodies to be recovered because it is very important to them that their loved ones are given proper burials as soon as possible.

“When I asked people what their most urgent needs were, they said food, water, tents, mattresses, underwear and clothes. Most people have not showered since the quake as they have lost all their belongings and have no water. They need water urgently for drinking, washing and to cleanse themselves before they pray.

“Most of the villages are in shock. They are grieving. They have not slept for days. They have very little appetite and have many worries about the present and the future. There are a lot of unanswered questions.

“One image sticks in my mind. In one area buried by the landslide, we walked past a ravine. At the bottom there was a collapsed house lying on its side and a man sitting on a fallen tree next to it. He had his back to us, but his bowed posture vividly demonstrated the many burdens he bore. I managed to talk to him later, and he told me that he had lost several members of his family, including his wife and child.”