It was towards dusk on Saturday, September 28. At 6:02, four minutes after her father had picked her up from work, there were loud explosions. The world would later learn that a magnitude 7.4 earthquake had struck Palu, in Sulawesi, Indonesia, followed by a tsunami. For Yuni Amalia and her father, the explosions had no name. All they knew was their motorbike was jolted hard and began to move on its own. As they fell, the ground vibrated, as if shaken by a great power from beneath the earth. They saw cars and motorbikes move on their own, dragged by unknown forces. Panic followed confusion as people crawled on the ground, unable to stand. “Don’t panic, Yuni. Quiet. We will go home to find your mother and sister,” said her father as he hugged her tightly.
Yuni works for sejenakhening.com, a youth mental-health group, and volunteers at Malibu Inklusi, a collaborative forum promoting social inclusion. When they had overcome their initial terror and confusion, she and her father rushed to help relatives, neighbors, and the surrounding communities.
Nurlaela Lamasitudju was another whose life was spared by the catastrophe. She lost eleven members of her family. As relatives and friends from outside Palu frantically tried to contact her by phone and social media, there was no word from the normally media-savvy, plugged-in social activist. Then, three days later, on Tuesday, suddenly came a new post: #palukuat #ayogerak #poskorelawaninformasi (Palu is strong, let’s move, volunteer for the disaster information center). Nurlaela had not only survived, but just a day after the earthquake she and her husband had volunteered at the disaster information center, distributing news bulletins, raising donations, opening public kitchens, and spreading the spirit of encouragement and motivation to each other.
For years, Nurlaela’s civil society organization, Solidaritas Korban Pelanggaran HAM, or Solidarity for Victims of Human Rights Violations, has been an active voice for marginalized groups, including victims of human rights violations, people with disabilities, victims of gender-based violence, and other vulnerable groups in Palu, Donggala, and Sigi, the three areas most severely affected by the disaster. She quickly mobilized her network to provide support to those areas she knows intimately well, knowing their needs would be great.
Quick mobilization and rapid response are the story of Palu’s communities following the quake and tsunami. They put aside fear, fatigue, and trauma to mobilize for rescue and recovery.
Palu is indeed strong!
The disaster that hit Palu, Donggala, and Sigi has now claimed more than 2,000 lives and displaced nearly 90,000 people. The true scope of destruction of the region’s infrastructure is still being assessed. Electricity was out for a week. Emergency aid, especially food, clothing, and medicine, are still being delivered. To say that life is hard for those lucky enough to survive is a tragic understatement. Instead of lamenting, however, activists in Palu are invoking the spirit of reawakening and strength. As communications were restored, hashtags like Nurlaela’s began to proliferate: #Palukuat (Palu is strong) and #Palubangkit (Palu revived). Those outside Palu responded with #PelukPalu (Hug Palu), and it has spread throughout the country.
Using the power of social media, friends of Palu are showing resiliency and positive spirit. While the news media were consumed with reports of looting as supplies grew desperately short on day two and three, activists on social media told stories of collaboration among local organizations, communities, and humanitarian agencies. Updates on what has been done, and what is still needed, continue. The face of Palu on their pages is the face of strength and humanity. The road ahead is steep, but Palu is not alone. The whole world #pelukpalu. The whole world hugs Palu and lends a hand.
Ade Siti Barokah is a program officer for The Asia Foundation in Indonesia. She can be reached at email@example.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.