Indonesia tsunami: Tears, hope amid rubble as aid arrives

The ground was still shaking when Martinus Hamaele entered the shattered ruins of the Mercure Hotel, a five-story building on the Palu coast, shortly after the earthquake and tsunami which devastated the city on Friday.

Screams and cries for help led him to six different people, all of whom he helped pull out of the rubble, despite several floors of the seaside resort having already collapsed.

But his 20-year-old daughter Marienne wasn’t one of them.

“We just kept shouting, Marienne, Marienne, where are you Marienne? It’s us!” he told CNN. She never answered and Martinus has waiting outside the hotel for news for six days.

Sitting on the shoreline, the Mercure was one of the first buildings to receive the full brunt of Friday’s tsunami. Almost a week after the disaster, the hotel remains wrecked.

Walls are missing, exposing rooms torn apart by the force of the quake and the huge waves that followed. Emergency services are still at the site, looking for trapped survivors and trying to avoid further collapse.

Rescue work has been slow and painstaking. Crews still lack the heavy equipment needed to remove bulky debris, and enough people with the expertise to safely search for survivors.

Bodies are still being recovered across Central Sulawesi, with the death toll of 1,424 expected to rise again.

No one has been found alive inside the hotel since the night of the earthquake but Marienne’s brother Frets Ferdinand Hamaele said he isn’t going to give up hope.

“It’s already been six days. For ordinary humans, it’s probably impossible that she’s still alive,” he said, tearfully. But we never give up hope. At least we can get her body. And if God grants our hope, then she is still alive.”


Six days after the earthquake and tsunami, more than 100 people are still missing, according to Indonesia’s Mitigation and Disaster Agency (BNPB). At least 70,000 are homeless and hospitals with few resources are treating about 2,500 injured people.

Basic food and water supplies have begun to flow back into the region but infrastructure is badly damaged, with some affected towns remaining inaccessible overland.

When the Indonesian Red Cross finally arrived at the village of Petobo, Indonesia, on Wednesday, they simply said the town had been “obliterated.”

“(We) found that the village — which was home to almost 500 people — no longer existed,” the Red Cross said in a statement.

Locals in Petobo told CNN they saw the ground turn to liquid before their eyes, watching loved ones’ homes collapse into the earth, with many barely escaping.

Thousands of people in Palu are fleeing aboard Indonesian military ships which arrived with supplies for the devastated region, according to the BNPB.

Others waited in line at Palu Airport for a chance to hitchhike on one of the enormous Hercules planes departing for Makassar, Manado and Balikpapan, a port city on the Indonesian island of Borneo.

“I am positive I’ll be able to fly out today, since the crowd is much smaller than yesterday. My parents managed to fly yesterday,” said 24-year-old Chikal, who only goes by one name.

Damage at Palu Airport has prevented some larger planes from landing, the head of the Airport Authority Benyamin Noah told CNN. However, he said more should be able to land later this week.

“We are still fixing the runway and apron … (plus) we want to make sure the facilities work,” he said. Despite the shortfalls, humanitarian flights are coming in 24 hours a day.

The airport is still packed with people hoping to flee Palu and central Sulawesi for safer locations, but airport staff said the numbers were half those of the panicked surges from earlier in the week.

Evacuees still can’t buy tickets at the airport itself, there’s no ticket counter. The terminal itself remains closed and debris still litters the drop-off area. Precious passes out of the disaster can only be purchased online.

Aid arrives

Amid the tears and the grim work of recovery, there were the occasional glimmers of hope among the survivors on Thursday.

Eva Sera, a 45-year-old mother, wore a broad smile as she waited with her five children at Palu Airport for a plane to Makassar in South Sulawesi, booked online by a relative in Jakarta.

Earlier on Thursday morning, the Indonesian Navy’s Kri Ahmad Yani arrived in Palu carrying supplies, including blankets and tents. On its way back for more supplies, it’ll take 250 passengers.

Relieved residents lined the docks with their belongings on Thursday, pleased to leave the devastated city.

Speaking during his visit to the affected area on Wednesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his first priority was to re-establish basic services before focusing on rebuilding.

The town of Donggala, which was severely damaged by the disaster and is still inaccessible by road, has received deliveries of water, rice, nappies, milk, clothes and other supplies, courtesy of the Indonesian Navy ship Kalbirang.

The waters close to the town are too shallow for the enormous vessel to dock, so a flotilla of fishing vessels came out to pick up the supplies.

Four oil tankers are on their way to Palu carrying 11.2 million liters of fuel, as electricity is slowly being restored to the region.

Meanwhile, on the ground, international aid agencies are working around the clock to help those who can’t find a way out or are determined to stay.

“We’re doing everything we can to bring medical treatment, clean water and support to the worst-affected areas,” Iris van Deinse, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Palu said in a statement.

“The survivors of this disaster have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods. We cannot let them lose hope as well.”