EARTHQUAKE! TAKING A LOOK AT THE 2009 EARTHQUAKE IN PADANG, INDONESIA
On the evening of September 30, I made my way back to the lobby of the Orchid Hotel in Bukittingi, a pleasantly-sloped town in which I had stopped for a few days to check out Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower (another oh-so-stressful Sumatra attraction). After finding the flower, getting some good pictures and calling it a day, I was ready to head back to the hotel and rest before catching a morning bus to the provincial capital city ofPadang.
Plans would change. Apparently, an earthquake measuring 7.6 had struck just off the coast near Padang, and images of collapsed buildings and landslides were already filling up the news channels, as rumors of tsunamis and floods made their way around Bukittingi. As I’d read before, and as I could see from the volcano that looms over Bukittingi, there is a long history of seismic activity in this area. The locals gathered in the hotel lobby talked as if this was a fairly routine occurrence. Apparently, buildings as far as Singapore were being evacuated, as tremors were felt around the region. All of this chaos went down as I pleasantly rode home on my rented motorbike.
And, as an estimated 250,000 nearby families had their homes destroyed or damaged, I extended my stay in Bukittingi by another three days.
When the road between Bukittingi and Padang opened up a few days later, I got on the first bus to Padang. First, there was trouble finding a hotel room, as international aid workers were arriving in large numbers and occupying most rooms in the city. After hours of searching, I found a converted janitors closet with some kind of cot and a shared bathroom outside. Not my best digs, but with tens of thousands of homes in the city recently destroyed, I suddenly felt a wave of guilt that I had a bed here at all.
- Much like September 11 in New York, the destruction I saw in Padang was in eerie contrast to the amazingly perfect autumn weather. The skies were bright blue, with fluffy clouds scattered about. Below, the city was a wreck. I walked around the town for a few days, taking in the scenes and snapping plenty of photos. I spent my first evening at a popular local bar watching the international aid workers (Swiss, Russian, Japanese, Malay, among others, I recall) drink and chase the local women. Oddly, adding to the eeriness is that the city seemed so resilient and pleasant. All over, even amid rumors of upcoming aftershocks and more buildings collapsing through the town, people were smiling, saying hello and carrying on almost as if nothing happened.
After two very surreal days amidst the rubble of Padang, I left with the oddly uplifting feeling that the news cannot ever really capture the human sense of absurdity and resilience in the face of the disasters seen through media.Now largely repaired, I’m afraid that if I were to revisit Padang, it might seem a bit distracted.