Saving lives, pulling out bodies: SA charity heads to Indonesia
Gift of the Givers team braced for the worst as they fly into an earthquake and tsunami nightmare
At 11pm on Wednesday a team of search-and-rescue experts were settled in on a flight from Johannesburg to Indonesia as part of international efforts to help the Southeast Asian nation in the wake of a deadly earthquake and resultant tsunami.
With them will be a medical team ready to help people found by those in the SA aid mission. Under the banner of the Gift of the Givers charity, the 25-strong team will want to do everything they can to save lives or, in the worst case, recover bodies and bring closure to the families of those who perished in the natural disaster.
A second team, with a focus on the medical aspect, will leave later in the week.
Gift of the Givers’ Ahmed Bham, the team leader on the mission, told Times Select on Wednesday afternoon, just hours before they were due to leave OR Tambo International, that the team had been liaising with the Indonesian government and hoped to get stuck in as soon as they could.
“We made a decision at midday [on Tuesday] that we were going to respond, so we’ve been arranging search-and-rescue teams, logistics, medical supplies, packing, and that sort of thing ... to leave at 10pm. I’ve been sorting out visas, foreign currency, liaising with the embassy. It’s been quite an admin day and logistics day,” said Bham.
A magnitude 7.5 quake struck the island of Sulawesi on Friday, leaving more than 1,400 dead and in excess of 60,000 displaced. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed.
Making matters worse, a volcano erupted in the north of Sulawesi on Wednesday – although there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, RTE reported.
“Once we’re on the ground we’ll have a better idea of what to expect,” said Bham, who is no stranger to rescue missions, having gone on his first Gift of the Givers relief effort to Haiti in 2010.
Most recently, Bham was part of the Gift of the Givers team that responded to the earthquake in Nepal in 2016. In that instance, medical and rescue equipment didn’t arrive for two days – it had not been loaded onto the flight with the rescuers because there was no space.
This time, Bham hopes there will be no such difficulty.
“We’re in partnership with the airline. Emirates, being a big airline, has guaranteed that we will get equipment there. But you never know what happens with an emergency,” he said.
Bham said the Indonesian government had indicated which areas needed the most help, and that the Gift of the Givers team would make their way to those areas as quickly as they could.
“Once we reach there, to Jakarta, I’m looking at heading out [to the worst-hit areas] on Saturday. You have to take the travel time into account, and also that I want to buy humanitarian aid in Jakarta, like a couple of generators. We’ll spend some time in Jakarta to get supplies, medical equipment, whatever is needed.
“We are looking for charter airlines [to the affected areas] and will join in the disaster effort. Once we’re there we’ll do search-and-rescue and also set up a medical tent.
“Then we’ll look at the humanitarian side. What do they need? Food? Shelter? Starter packs to rebuild houses quickly? We’ll try hit all the phases [of a rescue effort], try fit it all in, and see what positive legacy we can leave behind,” said Bham.
The team was prepared for large-scale devastation.
“Indonesia is in what’s known as the ring of fire, and it’s really being hit hard. The fact that they are calling for international assistance means they really need help. They know earthquakes and how to deal with them, so this means the situation is bad. You just need to see the images and you see what’s happening,” he said.