Gift of the Givers volunteers were awoken by a flurry of early morning earthquakes in Palu on Tuesday morning. Picture: Sihle Mlambo

Palu - Volunteers from the Gift of the Givers and local Palu residents received a rude awakening when a 5.2 magnitude earthquake hit the city early on Tuesday morning.

The earthquake hit at 5am local time (about 11pm South African time) and had a lot of the volunteers who were sleeping at the time jumping out of their beds and getting out of their rooms for safety.

Volunteers reported that there were four tremors with the longest one lasting about 5 seconds.

The volunteers felt cupboards shaking and said their beds suddenly felt like waterbeds during the tremors.

James Louw, urban search and rescue, said it felt like the cupboard was rumbling.

“The first one I felt but it didn't switch anything on, maybe I had no idea what to do, but during the second one the cupboard was shaking and it felt like I was in a water bed and I got outside and everyone was outside. It was intense. What also crossed my mind is how these people must be feeling, because they know what the earthquake is capable of,” he said.

Njanji Chauke, an SABC journalist who is also in Palu, said he was awoken by an alarm and just before he went back to bed, he felt a tremor, and then another one.

Moments later, the volunteers got out of their rooms and before long local Indonesians were in the streets, screaming.

“The locals were screaming when we got outside, they were saying 'earthquake, earthquake it's happening again'. They were really freaked out. You can see the psychological trauma, I think because they know what the earthquake is capable of firsthand,” said Chauke.

Benedict Ledwaba, a search and rescue officer, said he was terrified by what he felt.

“I was freaked out, I won't lie to you. I'm thinking, if this thing collapses on me, we are screwed. You want to make sure you are in an open space and not under any roof,” he said.

Video: Sihle Mlambo

Xavier Millar, a search and rescue volunteer, said he wasn't sure what to do.

“I felt shocked and had that feeling like I had jumped into cold water where your whole system is suddenly lit up and you're not sure what to do. I was fast asleep when it started,” he said.

* 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