It's a Race Against Time to Find Survivors Trapped By the Deadly Palu Earthquake

It's been four days since an earthquake and tsunami it the northern coast of Central Sulawesi, but the rescue operations are still underway at a popular hotel completely destroyed by the disaster.
October 2, 2018, 12:00pm
The National Search and Rescue Team evacuating a body found beneath the Roa Roa Hotel ruins in Palu. All photos by Iqbal Lubis

It's amazing what a difference a few meters can make. Ica, a 41-year-old resident of Palu, Central Sulawesi, was standing nearby the city's popular Roa Roa Hotel when last Friday's massive magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck. He survived the quake without a scratch. The hotel, though, was totally destroyed. On Monday, the iconic, water-view 115-room hotel was a pile of rubble and twisted metal and the site of a still ongoing rescue operation.


Ica rushed to the site of the collapse hotel on Friday, searching the rubble by the light of his cellphone for survivors, he recalled. He climbed carefully over the still settling rubble, shouting "hello, is anyone there?" only to repeatedly be answered by the darkness. Then, he heard a knock. The knock was faint, but it was definitely there. Ica and the others began to search harder.

They eventually found a woman and her child both of them seriously injured, beneath the rubble. The woman had her arms wrapped around her child. They were taken to a nearby relief camp and were the first people pulled from the Roa Roa Hotel. But there are likely more inside. It was a popular hotel, after all.

By Monday, the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) had arrived with heavy machinery to search for the rest. According to one official, 50 rooms were occupied at the time of the quake. As of yesterday, search teams had only been able to reach 24 of them.

On Tuesday, the rescue teams were using sound detectors to try to locate any additional survivors. There were two excavators at the scene, but it still took two hours to get two victims from the rubble. Both of them were found dead. It's a delicate process, even with the heavy machinery, and it's unknown how many potential survivors still remain under the collapsed building.

But one thing everyone knows is that every minute that passes, their chances of survival get worse. By Tuesday the official death toll had climbed in excess of 1,300. In Palu alone, it was more than 925 people killed. And as the hours turn into days, that number is only going to get higher.

The crew were working nonstop on Tuesday to try to stem that rise. Only if, somewhere beneath all that concrete, they could hear another knock.