No morning is normal for Fatmawati Amir Thang since the waves came and swept away her daughter. Some days she begins by visiting the hospitals to see if maybe, this time, they found her. On others she checks the displacement camps, the mosques and churches where survivors sought refuge in the aftermath of the disaster that struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. On days when she is losing hope, like this one, she goes to the mass grave.

Fatmawati and her husband spent their daughter Fika’s fourth birthday perched on a stranger’s tombstone, waiting for trucks to arrive to see if they carried any tiny body bags. On Sept. 28, Fika was with her grandmother, a vendor who sold snacks by the waterfront, when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck the island and triggered tidal waves up to 20 feet high that pounded the city of Palu. It was the second of three surges that tore the child from her grandmother’s arms. “We looked every-where, we asked everyone, all along the coast,” says Fatmawati, 30, fighting back tears and swatting away flies that swarmed the site where hundreds of bodies have been brought over the past week. “I will be ready to let her go if I could just see her body, if I could just see her face.”

Tragedy borne of disaster is a frequent visitor to Indonesia, a Southeast Asian archipelago straddling the Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the world’s most seismically active zones. Roughly 81% of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded have taken place along this horseshoe-shaped strip running from New Zealand to the tip of South America. Indonesia is particularly volatile; the latest disaster was the fourth here to claim more than a thousand lives since the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 killed about 228,000 people in 14 countries, mostly on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The triple strike of the Sulawesi quake, the tsunami and a temblor–induced phenomenon called liquefaction took a brutal toll. At least 2,010 people have been confirmed dead, while about 5,000 others are believed to be buried under rubble or swept out to sea. Search-and-rescue operations were due to end on Oct. 11, as hopes faded of finding anyone alive. The missing are deeply buried and likely decomposed beyond recognition. The survivors are left to try to make sense of the cataclysm and wonder what could be done better next time.

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Source:: Time – World


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Amid the Ruins of Sulawesi, Earthquake Survivors Take Stock

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