What Happened in Palu

Palu, indonesia in the aftermath of the earthquake    credit: adam dean for the new york times

Palu, indonesia in the aftermath of the earthquake

credit: adam dean for the new york times

It was just any other old Friday evening; the awkward few hours before the weekend excitement actually started. I, a busy Penn student, carried out my weekly daughterly obligation and called my dad. What I anticipated to be a warm, casual conversation over the phone quickly turned into a news headline. “There was a really bad earthquake. And a tsunami right after. There is no news about what happened. There’s no way to reach them,” he told me, audibly sighing in frustration.

There was no other way to put it; for the first several hours after the disaster struck, nobody had a clue what the situation in Central Sulawesi was like. And there I was, all the way on the other side of the globe, thinking we lived in the safe-and-speedy 21st century. I’d almost forgotten how small and powerless we were when it comes to nature’s wrath.

I didn’t lose a loved one in the earthquake. The tsunami didn’t wash away my home. But my heart was grieving anyway. Sometimes when you’re sad, your thoughts run a little all over the place. Did I really deserve to be sitting in a comfortable couch while my Indonesian siblings were crying, bleeding, barely sleeping under tarp tents?

Distance has its own special way of amplifying emotions.


11 days after the disaster struck, the death tolls had not slowed down.

From thousands of miles away, my fellow Indonesian students and I felt heavily affected by the tragedy. I, for one, felt a desperate longing for my home, and I felt a similar sense of stress among the other students. Some of us got together to pray, while others shared the tragedy online to help raise funds for the victims. With kind help from Penn’s Student Intervention Services, Penncasila, Penn’s Indonesian club, held a gathering in solidarity of the tragedy to unite the community during a time of distress.

The event, named One Hour of Solemnity for Palu and Donggala (Wednesday, October 10th), was attended by Indonesian students as well as members of the Asian American community. In order to keep everyone updated, a monologue passage was read in Indonesian and English translations. Hearing such heavy news in our mother tongue was heart-wrenching but a necessary evil; a means to connect with our home.

Gempa 7.5 skala Richter tersebut mengguncang Sulawesi Tengah pada hari Jumat tanggal 29 September, pada pukul 6 pagi WIB. Gempa itu merobohkan ratusan bangunan, mematikan listrik, dan menghancurkan jalanan utama menuju ke kota Palu. Gempa itu juga juga memicu tsunami setinggi 11.3 meter.

The earthquake hit Central Sulawesi the evening of Friday, September 29th, at 6 AM (GMT+7). It destroyed hundreds of buildings, cut off electricity, and devastated roads and bridges that lead to cities such as Palu. The earthquake also triggered a 34-foot tsunami that swept through the island of Sulawesi.

Setiap hari setelah terjangan sang tsunami, angka korban jiwa yang ditemukan terus meningkat. Yang pertamanya beberapa ratus, hari Selasa kemarin telah dikonfirmasi oleh Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana mencapai angka 2010: 1601 dari Palu, 222 di Sigi, 171 di Donggala, 15 di Parigi, dan satu di Pasangkayu, Sulawesi Barat. Angka ini bukan merupakan angka finalnya, dan ada 5000 orang dilaporkan hilang. 67.310 unit rumah rusak, menyebabkan 74 ribu orang harus mengungsi. Ada juga yang masih memiliki rumah utuh tetapi memilih untuk berdiam di luar karena trauma. Narapidana pun dilepas sementara karena kerusakan lapas mencapai titik tidak manusiawi.

Every day since the tsunami hit, the casualty count kept rising. What was initially several hundred was confirmed last Tuesday to be 2010: 1,601 from Palu, 222 in Sigi, 171 in Donggala, 15 in Parigi, and one in Pasangkayu, West Sulawesi. This is not the final count, and there are roughly 5,000 reported missing. 67,310 housing units were destroyed, leaving 74,000 evacuated. There are people whose houses are still whole, but choose to stay outdoors due to trauma. Prisoners were temporarily released due to the destruction of the prisons that left them inhumane.

Meski demikian, para murid dan guru giat melanjutkan aktivitas belajar di tenda-tenda “sekolah” darurat yang didirikan. Barak-barak sekolah pun mulai dibangun. Perekonomian Sulawesi Tengah pun mulai berjalan kembali, meski uang tunai dan dompet para penduduk hilang. Beberapa bank sudah beroperasi secara normal dan membantu penduduk melakukan transaksi kartu kredit, dan tarik uang walaupun kartu ATM dan buku tabungan hilang. Perlahan tapi pasti, penduduk Sulawesi Tengah yang tangguh akan sembuh.

Nevertheless, students and teachers continue school activities in emergency “school” tents that have been set up. School barracks are also being built. Central Sulawesi’s economy is beginning to stand on its feet, despite people having lost many of their cash money and wallets. Several banks are operating normally and helping them carry out credit card transactions and withdraw money, even having lost their ATM cards and saving books. Step by step, the people of Central Sulawesi are healing.

Wakil Presiden JK mengumumkan rencana meminjam pembiayaan bencana alam dari Bank Dunia dalam bentuk paket bantuan perlindungan sosial; paket pembangunan fasilitas darurat, seperti rumah sakit, sekolah, jalanan, dan air bersih; paket rekonstruksi dan rehabilitasi lingkungan; dan paket bantuan teknis untuk memandu paket bantuan tersebut. Menteri Koordinator Politik, Hukum dan Keamanan menyatakan proyeksi pembangunan kembali normal dalam dua tahun, sedangkan status darurat selama satu sampai dua bulan. Presiden Joko Widodo sendiri melaporkan bahwa aliran listrik di Palu sudah 70 persen, dan pemerintah terus berusaha maksimal untuk memulihkan Sulawesi Tengah.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla has announced a plan to receive an emergency natural disaster financing from the World Bank in the form of a social protection assistance package; an emergency facilities construction package, such as the construction of hospitals, schools, roads, and access to clean water; an environmental reconstruction and rehabilitation package; and a technical assistance package to manage the aforementioned packages. The Minister of Politics, Law, and Security stated a two-year reconstruction plan to return to normal, while the emergency status will stay for another one or two months. The President Joko Widodo himself reported that electricity in Palu is at 70%, and the government is continuing their maximum efforts to help Central Sulawesi heal.

Dalam masa-masa sulit seperti ini, yang terpenting adalah saling mendukung satu sama lain, baik dalam hal donasi materi maupun dukungan emosi. Marilah kita mengambil beberapa saat teduh untuk merefleksikan nasib para penduduk Sulawesi Tengah dan mengumpulkan diri kita sendiri.

During these difficult times, it is important to support one another, both in terms of material donations as well as emotional support. Let us take a few moments to reflect on the fate of the people of Central Sulawesi and gather ourselves.

Emotions flooded the room as the passage was read and as we continued with a heart-to-heart reflection. We spoke about our worries and revealed our vulnerability to people that we didn’t even really know, but in return, we were embraced with love and support. Even amidst such a horrible time, I knew deep in my heart that this was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve encountered at Penn. As we left the room and went on with our lives, we held onto a piece of this solidarity within us, knowing that we are never truly alone especially in times of trouble.

Disasters really have been hitting Indonesia pretty hard: Anak Krakatau, a volcano, erupted in July, and has been continuing to erupt, up to 156 times in one day. Lombok, in August, was hit by a series of strong earthquakes (6.4 scale and above) that continued over the course of one month, killing over 500 and leaving almost 400,000 displaced. All this on top of the Sulawesi Tengah earthquake and tsunami.

Several days ago in Palu, a heavy rainfall washed over Palu, flooding their evacuation tents. A good number of civilians are suffering from diarrhea, Acute Respiratory Tract Infection, rashes, and digestive problems. More doctors have been sent from the cities, but with thousands of patients that need help, it takes quite a bit of time. Universities have sent out medic teams and volunteers who go and educate the civilians about disaster response.

As a proud Indonesian, I will say that we are all overwhelmed with gratefulness for the support we’ve received from international communities. We know that, despite the horrific destruction and loss that we have all felt, we are blessed to have neighbors with so much good in their hearts. At Penn, I’ve felt tremendous warmth and love from the people that ask me if I’m okay.  I know the same can be said for all my fellow Indonesian students, too. As horrifying as the incident was, it’s undoubtedly beautiful to see the whole country and even the world come together for a cause that transcends race, religion, power.

As you read this passage, weeks, maybe months after the quake, the war is still not over yet. Reconstructing cities take time and resources, same goes for the citizens building back their confidence after such a traumatic event. If I could ask one thing of you, it would be to please keep the people of Central Sulawesi, as well as those in other areas impacted by natural disasters, in your thoughts and prayers.

Currently, students are studying under trees or tarp tents, struggling as they prepare to face the upcoming National Examinations in January. Penncasila is working with a non-profit to help build a temporary classroom, which would be able to house twenty-some students at 300 squared-feet, and costs $2500. On Saturday, November 17th, Asia Pacific American Heritage Week's Big Asian event raised $1875 and will go towards this cause. Additionally, Penncasila will be selling Tsunami Relief Snack Packs after Thanksgiving to raise the remaining funds. You can keep up with our project here: https://www.facebook.com/penncasila/ .

Every dollar, prayer, and thought really counts.

pastedImage0 (1).png

Gaby is an international student from Jakarta, Indonesia, and her friends and family are all safe (they reside in the island of Java, away from Sulawesi). Gaby is sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently serving as President of Penncasila. Please feel free to email her if you have questions or thoughts at gutomo@sas.upenn.edu.