TDMRC-EEFIT team leader Dr. Ella Meilianda and researcher Intan Dewi Kumala with a few survivors

Central Sulawesi Reconnaissance Survey: Psycho-social Impact

Surviving locals revisiting their destroyed neighborhoods in one of the areas affected by liquefaction
Surviving locals revisiting their destroyed neighborhoods in one of the areas affected by liquefaction

The Palu disaster event certainly left behind not only physical damages but also psychological injuries in the society. TDMRC-EEFIT Team conducted a preliminary study into this issue from November 17 to 23, 2018 as a part of the reconnaissance survey mission. The team observed and interviewed seven locals who had returned to their homes after spending a month in emergency camp. The locals were affected by different hazards. Some were affected by earthquake and tsunami, others by liquefaction and landslide. In addition, the team also interviewed representatives from affected educational institutions, including schools and universities.

Indonesians are a very religious society, including the people of Palu. This is reflected in the respondents’ views on the disaster event. Most of them saw the event as an admonition from God for the people’s bad deeds, such as the holding of Palu Nomoni Festival, which some respondents deemed as blasphemy. However, there were respondents who expressed a more scientific view. They saw the disaster as the result of the region’s geographical situation as it is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Furthermore, it was found that the resident’s knowledge of the necessity to evacuate to higher ground after earthquake to avoid tsunami was gained from media reports on the 2004 Aceh’s tsunami. However, only 1 of the 7 respondents claimed that he had the thought of possible tsunami incoming. The rest said they did not have such thought because they were certain that tsunami would not occur in the area since it is a bay.

TDMRC Researcher, Intan Dewi Kumala, interviewing one of the surviving locals
TDMRC Researcher, Intan Dewi Kumala, interviewing one of the surviving locals

Also, none of the respondents were aware of the threat of liquefaction and landslide because it had never been known before. Consequently, none of them made evacuation efforts. They however knew about the duck, cover, and hold protocol, but it proved to be ineffective in such situation.

As a matter of fact, Central Sulawesi had history of tsunami and landslides. But it was no longer widely known due to the long gap of time from the occurrence. Only after the September 28 event did people begin to seek information about it. At the moment, the people are most afraid of the threat of liquefaction.

Post-traumatic stress reactions were also experienced by all the seven survivors. Emotional reactions such as sadness, discouragement, fright, grief, and guilt, as well as cognitive reactions such as memory flashbacks, anxieties, sleep problems, and nightmares were still experienced and strengthened as aftershocks occurred.

A makeshift memorial at an emergency camp listing the names of the found and still missing victims
A makeshift memorial at an emergency camp listing the names of the found and still missing victims

The survivors also continued to feel sensations of shocks and vibrations, either from actual aftershocks, weak physical fitness due to lack of rest, or constant cautiousness. Certain noise or sound could also trigger their memories of the disaster experience, albeit with different cognitive sensations.

Furthermore, the respondents claimed that the strongest psychological support came from family, close relatives, and neighbors. Being close to loved ones gave them calmness and strength to go through the hard time. The togetherness among the communities in facing the calamity also helped the survivors cope with the trauma and distress.

Meanwhile, the representatives from schools and universities expressed to the team that they were in serious need of psycho-social supports because many of them were experiencing trauma and distress. They also stated that dissemination of disaster knowledge towards and among them is highly needed for their future preparedness and resilience.