When two earthquakes hit Sumatra within the space of 48 hours on 30 September 2009, we deployed an emergency response unit (ERU) just three days after the first quake hit. One month on, Liz Tait joined the team in Padang on Sumatra’s coast. Here, she explains what happened in the aftermath, and how we supported the work of the Indonesian Red Cross.
“After years of training, this is my first deployment with the emergency response team, and my first experience in an earthquake zone – something I don’t think you can ever really prepare yourself for.
“One month on, people are getting their lives back on track, but the destruction takes your breath away – you feel sick to the stomach. You don’t always notice it at first glance – some buildings have simply lost a couple of storeys, crushing the floors beneath them. Even after more than a week in Padang, I’m still not used to it.
An impressive response
“The amount of work achieved by the team who were here in the immediate aftermath is staggering. They worked around the clock to deal with hundreds of deliveries and distributions to even the most remote areas. When we arrived to take over the reins they were understandably exhausted.
We are continuing to distribute relief items – such as tents, hygiene kits, mosquito nets, and blankets – but the focus has shifted to getting long-term projects up and running, and we are training local staff to take over when we leave in a few weeks time.
“I am based at the Indonesian Red Cross, a hubbub of activity where the relief effort is co-ordinated and volunteers can camp. The Red Cross here is very strong as a lot of expertise was built up following the tsunami. This meant that, when the earthquake struck, it was able to bring its most experienced staff from Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.
“On Sunday, I went to Sintuk, a small village in the district of Kota Pariaman - one of the worst hit by the earthquake. I attended a community meeting where residents discussed how a new Red Cross shelter programme would work. The project will provide temporary shelters to families whose lives have been torn apart by the earthquake.
“It was agreed that a woman named Kartina, along with her husband and six children, will be one of the first to move into the new shelters. The earthquake destroyed Kartina’s home, leaving only a yellow sofa amongst the debris.
"For the past month Kartina and her family have been staying in their cattle shed and Kartina was looking forward to moving. She said: ‘The shelter is the greatest help I’ve been given, we have been very uncomfortable.’
Towards a better future
I have also spent some time at the warehouse where my ERU team members Dan and Sally spend most of the day organising and transporting relief goods. A local cinnamon factory has lent us warehouse space and as soon as you jump out of the Red Cross landcruiser the smell of cinnamon hits you – it’s wonderful.
“Seeing the Red Cross in action and the practical help and support we have given to those in need has been inspiring. We have a lot to do over the next few weeks – and the Indonesian Red Cross will be occupied with this work for many months to come – but what I’ve seen so far has been nothing short of impressive.”
A donation from our Disaster Fund was made in response to this crisis. Contributions to the Disaster Fund will be used in response to other emergencies in the future.