After arriving in Makassar, I find the good news that the airport has reopened in Palu for incoming flights and I am fortunate enough to book one of the last seats.
On arrival, just as i begin to see widespread landslides across the hills indicating that we are beginning to fly over the affected area, the plane begins to climb in to a holding pattern over Palu, a familiar feeling, reminiscent of our attempts to land in Kathmandu years earlier. We are told that the plane will remain in the air until space has cleared on the tarmac. Once we land it is clear why. The terminal roof has collapsed, the control tower destroyed as well as good quarter of the apron buckled and under emergency repair works. There are seas of patients on stretchers waiting for evac out, military transport planes and choppers coming and going constantly. At least we have an element on the ground.
I confer with a government official as well as a representative from another NGO and am able to secure a ride to the Governor's office, the sprawling grounds of which have become a camp for various rescue teams and organisations. This will be home for the time being. I am welcomed in to camp by a joint project of four local mining emergency response teams as they are about to head off to clear debris piles and search for casualties in another part of the city. As they depart, the constant wail of sirens blasting around the city ring out.
There are two remaining, functioning mobile phone companies. I have sims for both however neither is providing effective comms. Once every half hour or so I am able to get a message out and receive vital info from sources we have in the city. The other main issue is fuel. There seems to be a reasonable contingent of boots on the ground, just no fuel to get them where they’re needed most. This forms a roadblock for Backpacker Medics particularly as we work best in remote areas away from the main populous, it is our strength.
I am approached by an Australian expat who works in Sulawesi and speaks fluent Bahasa, he will offer what assistance he can, however no matter how many friendly offers of support we receive, this doesn’t present a solution to our communication and transport issues. We have reports of many untreated casualties in an area called Petobo, apparently they are in desperate need of help. There isn’t any phone reception in that region though and fuel for transport is nearly impossible. Apparently the petrol situation is improving, with more shipments and trucks arriving constantly under military protection, however the lines at service stations stretch for hours.
As with all of our previous deployments, these early hours have the familiar, semi-frustrating feel of hurry up and wait.