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Operation Palu – Days 1-5

On 28 September 2018, a shallow, large earthquake struck in the neck of the Minahasa Peninsula, Indonesia, with its epicentre located in the mountainous Donggala Regency, Central Sulawesi.

Location: Palu, Indonesia – 2018
Disaster Relief: Multiple Earthquakes + Tsunami + Liquefaction
Casualties: 7,000+

Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project

Day 1 -After countless flights and delays, the team made it into Palu, Indonesia. Upon arriving into Palu airport, it seemed we stepped into a war zone. Military and medical helicopters all around us, and Huey’s flying in and out.
The airport had fallen apart in some sections, and we could see the control tower in the distance, partially collapsed.
We were walked to a desk, where local military and immigration officials were waiting. They requested our passports and questioned us excessively…

After speaking with the military and immigration, they cleared us, and we were on our way… We are the first and only Americans here at this time. Other American teams were denied, as well as German and Canadian teams. The Indonesian government is very strict on who they allow into the disaster zone, for reasons I’m not able to discuss at the moment…

The Indonesian government took almost a week to officially request assistance from outside governments. Even then, most are still on standby, not sure whether they can make it into the small Palu airport. The main runway here is damaged, and the landing area is much shorter. Commercial flights are not coming in, mostly small prop planes like the one we were able to work our way onto.

We met a great taxi driver at the airport. He drove us to the 3 main areas of concern… The hotel, the mall, and a large 5+ acre residential area called Petobo…

Petobo is bad. Like nothing we have ever seen. The residential area sunk over 30 feet, after the quake liquified the soil it stood on. The homes and residents were engulfed, leaving nothing but rubble. There were over 1,000 people living in the area. Bodies are being pulled from the rubble, placed in body bags, and carried to a tent. This is happening nonstop.

Liquefaction - Palu, Indonesia

Mall Tatura : We went to a 5-story mall, which was hit hard by the 7.5 earthquake. It still stands, but not by much. From the exterior, it was like something out of the movies. We were able to confirm that there were no victims at this location or so we were told.

Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project

Hotel Roa Roa : There was an 11 story hotel, housing many locals, and a well known South Korean paragliding athlete. The building couldn’t hold, and was completely destroyed. His body was found in the rubble, among many others. It was sent back home to his family. He was one of over 120 foreign nationals who were impacted by the earthquake and tsunami.

The level of destruction here is heartbreaking. It’s not what you see on tv. The countless lives lost, which continue to rise… Pulling lifeless bodies from the rubble… Laying them in a tent for family to identify… and not being able to do anything to bring them back.

The best we can do in this situation is give the families closure, by finding their loves ones, and bringing them home.

Tomorrow is a new day, and like so many we have met here, we have hope for some light in these dark times…

1 of 3 liquefaction sites. Palu, Indonesia

** Day 2 **

Today, we visited another area that was hit hard by the disaster… Balaroa.

Balaroa was a residential area housing thousands of people. I say was, because it’s been literally shaken to pieces. The ground liquified, and everything sank over 25 feet! There is nothing left!
2 of 3 liquefaction sites. Palu, Indonesia – Balaroa

Nearby, there was a mosque. During the earthquake, this mosque was holding prayer time… for 40 children. 0 survived.

Just up the hill from these 2 locations, is an IDP camp. This is the place these people are staying temporarily, while they mourn the loss of their parents, brothers, sisters, and their children… while they piece their lives back together.

Roughly 2500 people are malnourished, under developed, and in need of help! All they need is the basic human needs we all take for granted… food, water, filtration, medical, sanitation, and hygiene supplies. The government has promised these people help… but it won’t come for months.

These men, women, and children will get our help. Look at the faces of these beautiful people… look at the rubble, that is now their homes. Being here, we have seen nothing but love and support from these people. People who have nothing left. They don’t even have clean drinking water, yet they’re still smiling.

Family Living in IDP camp. Palu Indonesia - Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project
Earthquake victims now living in IDP camp

** Day 3-4 **

Yesterday, we spent the day in Balaroa, assisting the local military with Search and Recovery. The beautiful mosque here was completely destroyed. It was prayer time for the children when it happened…

The ground underneath liquified, and 150+ children and adults were buried. The day before, we helped recover 40 children’s bodies from the rubble. The entire residential area around it housing over 1,000 people, was also liquified, and the search continues.

Digging up and putting them in body bags, while the families watch nearby, is an awful thing… but giving these families closure, and the ability for a proper burial is what it’s all about. They watch, with hope to know their child is found, because not knowing is a terrible burden to bear.

Palu, Indonesia. Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project
40 children recovered. No survivors.

** Day 5 **

Yesterday, we visited an IDP camp (Internally displaced person). These are people who are forced to flee their homes, but remain within their country’s borders. This was a camp on the grounds of a big beautiful mosque. The mosque is far too damaged to enter, but outside you will find well over 1,000 men, women, and children, living under tarps, eating rice and fish, with nowhere else to go.

The sanitation level was extremely low… Low access to clean drinking water, and the sewage disposal was not adequate. It needed attention!

As Burke and I were walking through the camp, he found an older man, in a very bad condition. This man was emaciated, and undernourished. He had a serious wound to his stomach from the earthquake. I noticed he was breathing from his chest. The situation was not good and needed immediate attention. No doctors knew about him or his condition.

Burke Bryant - Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project
Burke Bryant medically managing earthquake victim

Burke got doctors to the area, gave him an oral nutritional supplement, and made sure an IV bag was started. The Polisi (local police) & Burke then transported him to the hospital for immediate care. We would return to check on the man later.

We visited with many of the people in the area, assessed their needs, and set a plan to return. The current living conditions needed to change. We picked up some materials, a couple cisterns, and prepared for the following day.

Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project - Ryan Bartholomew, Burke Bryant
From left to right. Ryan Bartholomew, Press Reporter, Burke Bryant, Triage Doctor

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