Indonesia: A Year On, Survivors of Quake-Tsunami ‘Must Keep Spirits High’

Keisyah Aprilia
Palu, Indonesia
190925_ID_Palu_1000.jpg Earthquake and tsunami Survivors Marhamah (left) and Susilawati hold their children near the Balaroa camp in Palu, Indonesia, Sept. 22, 2019.
Keisyah Aprilia/BenarNews

Marhamah is among nearly 16,000 residents of this capital of Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province who live in dilapidated tents a year after an earthquake and tsunami killed thousands of people here.

As Indonesians prepare to mark the first anniversary of the twin disaster on Saturday, frustrated survivors including Marhamah, a mother of four, are trying to get their lives back to as normal as possible and keep a positive outlook. The provincial government, meanwhile, says it is doing all it can to reconstruct damaged homes and buildings, but acknowledges those efforts are slow.

“What else can we do? We must keep spirits high, right?” said Marhamah, whose husband works as a motorcycle taxi driver while she operates a mom-and-pop store in front of their tent to supplement their income.

“Even though we’re still living in tents, the most important thing is we are still alive,” the 50-year-old told BenarNews.

Before the earthquake and tsunami struck, she and her husband owned a shop selling rice from their home.

“The income was big enough,” Marhamah said. “Now everything is gone. It’s not just our house that was swallowed by the earth, but also the business that we had built for 15 years.”

Despite the setbacks, Marhamah is grateful that her family is safe.

“Worldly possessions can be gained, but lives lost cannot be recovered. Thank God we all survived,” she said.

A tsunami that devastated coastal areas followed soon after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit Central Sulawesi on Sept. 28, 2018.

The back-to-back disasters killed at least 4,547 people, including hundreds believed buried when their homes were sucked under by torrents of mud, in a process called liquefaction where water-logged soil turns into quicksand.

On Wednesday, Palu Mayor Hidayat posted a statement on Instagram calling on residents to pray together to mark the anniversary.

He advised them against excessive partying or lighting of fireworks on Saturday. He also ordered nightspots such as karaoke lounges, massage parlors and bars to close and banned restaurants, cafes and hotels from holding live music performances that day.



In the Balaroa area of Palu, more than 1,000 people live at a temporary camp. It is located in the same area where others are believed to have lost their lives when their homes were swallowed during the disaster, officials and NGO workers said.

“There’s no clear information when we will get a temporary home, let alone a permanent one. I don’t know what to do about this government,” Susilawati, 39, told BenarNews.

“We have to make do with living in tents and rely on odd jobs for income,” said Susilawati, who lives in the camp with her husband and child.

The camp is equipped with an emergency school, a common room, two prayer rooms and a children’s playground. Only four of the 10 toilet booths function and electricity use is limited.

Close to 16,000 people affected by the disaster live in tents within the camps in Palu while another 1,339 people stay with their relatives and need housing as well, according to Adriansa Manu, coordinator of Sulteng Bergerak, a coalition of civil society groups.

“When people are still living in camps, it is the fault of the local government. The government should fulfill their rights,” he said.

Many of those in the camps were not as fortunate as Marhamah and her family.

Nurlina, 60, a civil servant pensioner, lost her husband, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren in the disaster.

At first, she stayed with a relative in Makassar in South Sulawesi province, but returned to be reunited with her son at the Balaroa camp.

“Remembering that day always brings tears to my eyes, but this is what God has ordained,” she said.

“Now my son works in a grocery shop. If we have money we would like to move to a permanent house and open a shop, even a small one,” she said.

‘A lot of work to do’

More than 58,000 people across the province need permanent housing, according to Hidayat Lamakarate, a spokesman for the provincial government.

“These are people whose homes were badly damaged and no longer habitable,” Hidayat told BenarNews.

In addition, more than 5,850 families must be relocated because they live in designated disaster-prone zones, which require the government to buy their property, he said.

So far, about 3,000 families in Palu and Sigi regency have received permanent housing, while no such housing has been built in Donggala regency, Hidayat said.

Longki Djanggola, the province’s governor, concedes that reconstruction has been slow.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, including building permanent houses. We continue to push for immediate construction. We want it to be completed in 2020,” Longki told BenarNews, adding his government had received 102 billion rupiah ($7.2 million) in funds from Jakarta to rebuild Central Sulawesi.

Finding the right locations to construct permanent housing has been an issue as well.

“Some locations are far from where the victims used to live and in other cases, facilities are not in accordance with the wishes of the survivors. We understand that,” he said.

While his government has done a reasonable job providing schooling and health care for survivors, finding jobs is a challenge, Gov. Longki said.

“It’s rather slow because there are administrative and other matters that need to be ironed out,” he said.

Sahruddin Baco, a former resident of the Balaroa camp, left it two months ago. He had grown fed up with waiting to be assigned a permanent new home built by the government.

He now rents a house.

“I was tired of living on handouts. For eight months I spent my days waiting for aid to come,” said Saharuddin, who works as an app-based motorcycle taxi driver and earns about 50,000 rupiah ($3.50) a day.

“Things have gotten better after I moved to the rented house with my wife,” he told BenarNews.

Nurlina (front) and a fellow survivor of the 2018 earthquake and tsunami rest in their tents in Palu, Indonesia, Sept. 22, 2019. [Keisyah Aprilia/Benarnews]
Nurlina (front) and a fellow survivor of the 2018 earthquake and tsunami rest in their tents in Palu, Indonesia, Sept. 22, 2019. [Keisyah Aprilia/Benarnews]


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