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Dispatch From Indonesia: “The Houses are Broken and Totally Destroyed”

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Damage to a Catholic high school in Bengkulu, Indonesia. Photo by Adhong Ramadhan/CRS.

CRS Indonesia’s emergency response director Adhong Syahir Ramadhan phoned from Bengkulu, one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake, just hours after the fourth earthquake struck the island of Sumatra. Adhong had arrived in Bengkulu from Jakarta less than 24 hours after the first earthquake struck and has been working with partners to assess the damage and plan for an emergency response. Of Indonesian origin, Adhong has worked with CRS for several years, including overseeing much of the emergency response and recovery after the 2004 tsunami and the 2006 earthquake in Yogyakarta.

He relayed these comments in a phone call to Jakarta on Friday at 4:30 p.m., Indonesian time.

When I first landed in Bengkulu, I thought, “Oh, this is OK.” Then I went to the village and it was awful. The houses are broken and totally destroyed — too many of them. Then dark came and people — men and women — were sleeping outside because we still feel some shaking.

We felt another earthquake in the middle of the night last night. I was still in the field. After that, on the way to the city (around midnight) I saw many people along the north coastal road (in the Bengkulu Utara district) packed inside trucks. Because they felt the earthquake, they were ready to just leave the area.

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Earthquake damage to a house in Bengkulu. Photo by Adhong Ramadhan/CRS.

And then in the city, many people were trying to find a high place. The rumor was that people had said that water was on the way. That’s the issue: they still fear the tsunami.

What we should do immediately is give them a secure place, like a tent, and then let the women, children, the elderly have shelter. Most of the people have mentioned that they have food, but only enough for a short period of time — like five days or a week. We should also give them tools to clean up their living areas. Let them start to work.

Today I met with the Church and local civil-society organizations and I expressed that CRS is ready to support them, to help them. I said to the director of our partner agency that if you need capacity building on how to arrange the logistics, we can help you; we are ready. If you need funding, we are ready. The Father said they don’t have the capacity to do it; they have no experience.

I already have procured 1,000 tarps from Palembang. They arrive tomorrow and we’ll start to distribute. CRS has procured 5,000 [tarps] in the area that will be distributed within the next 24 hours. Today I set up CRS’ operation base in Bengkulu, which will be a combined CRS staff with one staff support person from the nearby social economic department from the local Church. The coordination meetings at the government level have started; they start every morning at 8:00, and in the evenings at 9:00, after the praying and the breaking of the fast.

During the daytime, people are willing to work, but it’s Ramadan — fasting. In some areas, people say, it’s fine; we can start. If CRS can provide support as soon as possible, perhaps they will be able to recover by the end of Ramadan. Then, they can truly celebrate.

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