Volunteers from the Gift of the Givers conducted a site inspection of Palu where they saw the destruction caused by the devastating earthquake. Picture: AP Photo/Fauzy Chaniago

Palu - Volunteers from the Gift of the Givers conducted a site inspection of Balaroa, Palu, on Monday, where they got to see for the first time the destruction caused by the devastating 7.5 earthquake in late September. 

The 25 man team from South Africa, which is working with a Makassar-based Indonesian organisation, the PPPA, found a trail of destruction. 

The military kept close-watch as members of the public continued to look for their loved ones, 9 days after the carnage. 

We spoke to three of the search and rescue volunteers who have joined the Indonesian mission to share their observations about what they witnessed on the ground.

Mustafa Zalgaonker, 29, an emergency care practitioner and lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, with 8 years experience said the magnitude of the earthquake was quite severe. 

Video: Sihle Mlambo

“The magnitude of the earthquake was quite severe, judging by the damage to the buildings (and) the infrastructure, you can see sewerage pipes that are broken and powerlines. We can also see that this area was highly populated, if you look closely you will see clothing, houseware and you can see a mosque that is also down. People are salvaging what they can in order to rebuild a new life. There is also a need for some search and rescue”. 

Zalgaonker is on his third mission with Gift of the Givers. 

Markes Butler, 50, the head of disaster management in the Free State province, has more than 27 years experience in the emergency services. The Indonesian mission was his fifth after attending those in Nepal, Haiti and Knysna. 

“We need to get as much indigenous knowledge as possible from the locals, (find out) who their family members were, who’s still missing and just give us a sense of the location where their houses were and maybe with the approval of the local authorities, tomorrow we can start doing search and rescue and body retrieving. There has not been any search and rescue going on here, so tomorrow hopefully, we can do some search and rescue”.

Ken Cosgrove, 65, a former fireman, qualified urban search and rescue officer, paramedic and accountant by profession, was on his second mission with the non-profit organisation. 

He observed at Balaroa: 

“The level of the devastation in this part of the city is absolutely extreme. It's going to be a lot of work tomorrow, we are going to need to get in here. We come from a situation of privilege and these people obviously had it tough, we need to get in here and do what we can, assist them and help them get going again”. 

* Cash contributions to assist the victims of the disaster can be deposited into Gift of the Givers, Standard Bank, Pietermaritzburg, Account No. 052278611, Branch Code 057525.  Please send deposit slip to [email protected] for acknowledgement.  You can also donate online here.

** Independent Media journalist Sihle Mlambo is in Indonesia with the Gift of the Givers team.

Sunday Tribune