A massive tsunami rocked northern Indonesia on Friday, Sept. 28, leaving more than 1,600 dead, and 1,000 missing, as well as leveling several miles of coast. The 20-foot wave, which traveled nearly 250 miles per hour, reached the city of Palu in the early evening — demolishing bridges, hotels and entire neighborhoods as it flooded the town. The tsunami and preceding 7.5 magnitude earthquake have caused more deaths and injuries than any natural disaster in Indonesia since 2006, leaving more than 70,000 without homes.
As the devastation worsens with time, the exact cost of damages to Palu’s infrastructure cannot be estimated , but the tsunami has claimed countless landmarks and public buildings, including the iconic Kuning Ponulele Bridge, the first arch-bridge in Indonesia. Many countries have stepped in to lend aid to the reeling population and government of the Southeast-Asian nation — the U.K. Royal Air Force alone airdropping nearly 20 tons of supplies. The U.S. has sent aid as well, which is scheduled to arrive this week. Palu remains without electricity or running water, with fuel and rescue supplies running critically low. Many rescuers have been forced to search through wreckage by hand in order to find missing persons. According to local sources, bodies are being left in the streets due to the lack of resources necessary to handle them.
After Hurricane Florence received several weeks of coverage last month, this new disaster is already beginning to slide off of the front page — even before a conclusive death toll could be reached. Contention has risen among the different religious groups of the Indonesian people, as each group blames the other for what they see as a punishment for religious infidelity. Within other groups, however, another movement rose where members of each group responded to the tragedy with a love for community and religious tolerance. At an interfaith ceremony over a mass grave dug for those lost in the disaster, religious leaders of Christian, Muslim and other faiths led prayers for the dead regardless of their denomination.
Apart from remembering the dead, many struggle to survive. Many have turned to looting food, water, fuel and other essential supplies from local stores. Area police, from inability or unwillingness, are doing relatively little to stop looters. Hundreds of prisoners from local facilities are still on the loose after escaping while the disaster raged. Many rioted at Donggala Penitentiary after they were told they would not be allowed to search for their families among the wreckage, setting the building on the fire and escaping into the country.
Indonesia is no stranger to natural disasters — lying directly in a hotbed of volcanic activity called the Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates shift and collide constantly, causing earthquakes, trenches, tsunamis and every kind of cataclysmic storm imaginable. The large island nation has some of the most active volcanoes in the world and consequently experiences some of the most extreme weather conditions the Pacific has to offer. Palu sits directly on the Palu-Koro fault line, nestled in a bay in the northern island of Sulawesi. The tsunami traveled along this fault line since it was caused by the shift of tectonic plates at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The plates shifted past one another, rupturing 90 miles of the fault and sending a huge wave surging toward Palu. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has taken on some minor projects in the past for disaster warning and remediation but now has his work cut out for him; not only in relief for the recent tsunami, but in preparation for the next.
Brendan Lordan is a second-year student majoring in English writing. BL895080@wcupa.edu.