Medan, Indonesia – Villagers in West Sulawesi in Indonesia are starving for food and water after taking refuge in the hills following a deadly earthquake in the early hours of Friday morning and fears of aftershocks that could trigger tsunamis.
The magnitude 6.2 earthquake that struck the regencies of Majene and Mamuju while scores of people slept killed 84 people, of whom dozens are still missing and more than 19,000 are homeless.
“We urgently need baby and children’s supplies like milk, porridge, blankets and diapers,” Muhammad Ansar Tahir of the Ansor Youth Movement of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organization in Nahdlatul Ulama, told Al Jazeera. Indonesia. He says his group has so far identified around 30 makeshift camps in the area.
“[On Sunday,] a pregnant mother had to give birth in a tent in one of the camps. “
Just a day before the earthquake, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake also hit the area, damaging homes and other buildings.
Irlan Suhendra, a 23-year-old economics student, has been at a camp in the mountains on the outskirts of South Tubo village in Mamuju since Thursday.
“Actually, we had been to camp the night before the first earthquake, but we thought it was safe to go home, so I was sleeping at home when the second earthquake hit. I woke up and tried to open the front door but the walls were shaking too much and I couldn’t, ”he told Al Jazeera.
Eventually, when the shaking stopped, Suhendra was able to escape from her home with her younger brothers and her grandmother. “We were afraid of liquefaction like in Palu,” he says.
In 2018, more than 4,300 people were killed or declared missing when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Palu in central Sulawesi, turning the ground into liquid mud that swallowed buildings.
Suhendra spent Friday night under a tarp that villagers brought from their homes and said no one was able to sleep due to heavy rains and fear of aftershocks. They have since been in the camp with 44 people sharing four tents. Tents are made of a single tarp hung between the trees and sometimes do not reach the ground allowing rainwater and insects to get inside.
While they have sporadically returned to their homes, which are located about 300 meters (984 feet) down a steep hill to bring food and gas cylinders to the camp, their gas supply is now depleted and heavy rains returned cooking or heating water. difficult due to wet conditions.
Suhendra told Al Jazeera that they had so far only received a few provisions from the regional government, such as noodles and clean water, but had to eat the noodles without cooking them.
Monsoon rains have hit the island of Sulawesi since Friday, hampering aid efforts and slowing search and rescue operations. The rain is expected to continue for the rest of the week.
Ade Chandra, the deputy chief of police in Pasangkayu, north of Mamuju, a six-hour drive from the epicenter of the earthquake, told Al Jazeera that the damage in the local area made the logistics of the delivery of aid difficult. “We are providing assistance through the local port and from Palu. Unfortunately, the road to Makassar is damaged and there are constant landslides, ”he said.
“We are now focusing on security in the region and transporting aid. We are focused on supplying people living in camps with basic necessities and in particular baby products like formula milk. “
‘Digging with our hands’
Volunteer groups like Tahir have also stepped in to help with the government’s response, and said they are focusing on two types of support in collaboration with the Disaster Mitigation Agency and the Indonesian Research and Development Agency. rescue: assist in the evacuation and deliver supplies and donations. to the camps.
“We use heavy machinery in some cases, as many buildings that have collapsed are multi-storey and too heavy to be lifted otherwise. In other cases, we dug with our hands to get people out. We found people who were slightly injured, seriously injured and some who had died, ”he said. “If we find people slightly injured, we direct them to one of the camps.”
Tahir also said they had received private donations of supplies from local businesses and individuals, and were working hard to identify the locations of the various camps in order to deliver the donations as quickly as possible.
As the camps were erected by local communities and not by the government, it is difficult to locate them all quickly and easily, he said, and volunteers have to conduct ground sweeps of the local area.
Suhendra said her family and neighbors in the camp were “traumatized and still panicked” by the events of the past few days. His village of South Tubo is home to 270 families, who have dispersed to different camps in the mountains. He added that social media hoaxes that depicted tsunamis hitting the surrounding area only compounded their trauma.
“I haven’t returned to normal yet. I was hit by rocks as I ran to escape the earthquake and they ripped the skin off my legs and feet, ”he told Al Jazeera. “I just used adhesive bandages to cover the bleeding.”
As Suhendra spoke to Al Jazeera, a 4.2 magnitude struck 10 km (6.2 miles) from Mamuju, causing panic in the camp.
With his family and neighbors preparing for their fifth night in the camp, Suhendra said he had a “suggestion” for the government.
“They must enter the villages. All aid is centralized in the town of Mamuju. We need rice and milk for the babies, but help is not reaching us. Our people need help. “