On Sunday the 5th of August at 18.46, Clíona and I experienced the terrifying feeling of a shallow 7.0 mag earthquake, just 40 kilometers from it’s epicenter. The experience didn’t last 1 shake, but 2 days as the many powerful aftershocks brought a fresh bout of fear each time. I recorded the experience in writing as best as I could as I knew the memory of the scary moments would quickly change as I thought back on them. Now safe, on the nearby island of Bali, I am happy to share our experience to any of you who are interested in hearing it.
18.46 – Sunday 05/08/2018 – Senggigi, Northwest Lombok.
Nearing the exit of the small beach cafe, walking away from the beach where we just left our seats and towards our hotel – which is between the cafe and the road. I first noticed a commotion. Clíona and I walked around opposite sides of the last table in the cafe and before rejoining I see the women sitting here shoot up and start scrambling towards the exit. Without having time to think, me and Clí followed, grasping each others hands in the process. This is an earthquake. Now I can feel it. All thoughts had now left my head but one; run-together-quickly.
I expected it to be 1 shake and then over. But just seconds after we started running it got way worse. I cannot explain it properly. The ground is literally shaking from side to side, like being on a boat in rough seas. But then add the noise, an angry roar echoing and vibrating through your body. Right then, I felt so small and powerless. The world could crush us just like that.
With our 2 storey hotel on our left and trees on our right, we tried to power through the shakes and get to the road. This is what most of the people around us were doing. You know that you should worry when the local people are screaming and panicking.
Lights out. Darkness. Clíona’s grip tightens. The ground still shaking violently. We reached the sliding gate at the front of the hotel, 5 meters from the road now. The gate had slid shut. My hands joined others as we threw it open. The world still shaking beneath us. It was like we were pushing it uphill. Through the gate and still moving towards that road.
Only now do I see objects falling to the ground. Branches and a flag pole catch my attention as they hit the ground right in front of us. It’s as if its a computer game now and this is our last hurdle. We’re at the main entrance. 1 meter from the road. With my left arm protecting my head and my right looking for Clíona, I am only slightly relieved to have gotten through. What now?
Moments after we reached the dark road, there’s a gap in the screams and the panic. Noise stops as everyone gathers themselves. The shaking has finished, about 50 seconds after it began. My thoughts/fears now move to a Tsunami. How soon does a Tsunami come? I had no idea! Clíona is comforting an Australian girl who thinks her friend is stuck inside – turns out her friend is Indonesian and knew it was safer to get to the beach. I look for the calmest staff member I can find and ask his advice. He doesn’t know. I ask others and it’s the same response. Other staff members are crying, but they tell me that everyone is out of the cafe! I ask more and more people before a local man a reassures us “No tsunami, only north”.
We start to walk towards our hotel from the previous night, knowing that it is maybe 30 meters above sea level up a steep flights of steps. But we’re halted when we see the road, cracked, split from one side to the other, as if it was a cartoon. This stops us and helps us notice the masses of traffic driving 1 way. South towards the city. We walk back and find another man – although I now feel like he was sent from above to find us. Ebed, a business man from Java who stays at our hotel for weeks/months when meeting buyers of his company’s spices, cashew and vanilla. He shows me the government message on his phone. “No Tsunami threat”, but offers to take us to the city in his car anyway. With so few others hanging about we say ok. We turn down the offer of 3 Australian women who are opting to hike to higher ground. That is until – maybe against our better judgement – we ask them to come along.
The crack in the road pictured on Monday morning on Instagram.
Ebed and his business partner Syamsudin load us into the car. 2 of the 3 women actually own the cafe we were in. At first they seem great. “F**k the cafe, once everyone is safe”. But soon their attitude changes as they start to freak out. One in particular, as she receives a phone call from her daughter in law who is hysterical. Nothing was wrong with her, she was just panicking and in shock like the rest of us. Ebed, almost ignoring them just keeps driving. Then they start demanding where we should go and Ebed obeys. I nearly wish he told them to shut up. He was the one in control and we felt safe with him. Although that feeling of safety left sharpish. “There’s a Tsunami!! We need to get out of this traffic. We need to get to high ground. Where are we??” Screams coming from the women as the government issued a Tsunami warning. Of course at this stage we were shitting ourselves. Clíona and I were trying to remain calm by waving at the beautiful children passing in their parents arms. What must it be like to have little children right now? We agreed that if we did have to run, we needed to just look out for ourselves. Maybe carry someone’s child but don’t stop for anyone else. In fairness, the Tsunami warning was from the government, but it was just a precaution. The poor Aussie women didn’t even digest that part. They just freaked. Which is perfectly understandable in these circumstances.
Time ticks by. Surely a Tsunami would have happened already. There seems to be another commotion, this time on the road as we sit almost idle in traffic. I thought that this could be it. They’ve spotted the water!? But thankfully Ebed had noticed that it was a fight. Two drivers had a tip and let tempers get the better of them.
The fear falls away when the chief worrier in the back gets another phone call, this time from her husband who is online on all the meteorology sites he can find and assures us, that there is no Tsunami. A very calm and rational voice that I was very grateful to hear. Still making good ground and height away from the coast, we pull in and wait it out here for a few hours. It is now that we manage to get word home just in case it is in the news. Standing here, in the open space, with maybe just electrical wires causing a threat, we feel another 5.6 as we stand on the footpath. It just leaves you feeling powerless each time. But this one was short, and nothing for us to worry about.
A decision had to be made. We dropped the 3 women off at a police lot where their family were, sitting with many others in an open space. Ebed suggested “maybe it’s okay to go back and get your bags and get back to the city?”. This sounded great to us. What a nice man. The only problem was the women were still scaring us as they left the car. “The roads are not passable” “There will be landslides” “The bridges have flooded”. But Ebed’s “I don’t think so” was enough for us to at least go check it out and see how safe it was. And it was safe. There were no floods, no more landslides, no panic.
The only scary part was being back at the hotel where we were so scared only hours previously. The hotel was in blackness. Gates closed. Only a security man with a torch who agreed to let us up. Shitting ourselves now again, we entered the room. Everything had fallen over. The TV had somehow twisted around it’s mound and was now facing the wall. Our things were scattered on the ground, but that was probably the case anyway. We hurriedly squashed everything into the bags. We were out in 30 seconds max. I was so curious to see the cafe at the beach and how bad it was, but we both knew better. Out the gap.
Ebed brought us to a homestay that he knew in the city of Mataram, West Lombok. He said it’s very simple but it should be safe. 16 rooms, facing an open court, in the shadow of a 5 storey building site. Hmmmm. Well it withstood the 7.0 so it should be fine. Nevertheless, we slept with the door open for a quick escape. A small aftershock at 3 did not stir anyone. But a scatter to the road at 7am was needed for a 4.8 that was felt by all. The building site, with bricks missing and a couple of cracks better behave.
Ebed brought bread from the bakery and we took our places outside. In the afternoon he left for a short while to check his warehouse so we went looking for McDonald’s and a blood donors. Only one was open, I’m sure you can guess which one. I am convinced too that there was a tremor as I lay there on the bed. I could hear it in the wall. All the staff stood and stared out the window for 10 seconds, and then just got on with it. We also called into the hospital too see if we could get advice from a doc as Clí had been ill for over 5 days now.
Thankfully we got sorted, but not before being in the emergency room where families gathered around their loved ones. Some for the last time it seemed.
We sat and shared stories with Ebed who is now elevated to sainthood in our eyes. All too soon, light fell and tension raised. Lying on bed now was worse than the night before. It was as if the adrenaline had worn off and now over thinking took it’s place. But we felt braver, we slept with the door closed.
All day we were listening for the calls of “Gempa!! Gempa!!” (Earthquake!! Earthquake!!) or any calls in a high pitched voice. None came since 7am that morning and we dozed off for some much needed sleep. But at 11.50 it was happening again. I first noticed Clíona as she swung the door open shouting at me in the process to wake up. I ran and remember trying to say “get to the road” but the words felt stuck inside me. I was silenced by the angry rumble coming from below. Still in the courtyard, with the building site to my left, I could feel my knee wobble on the shaking ground and I only just kept my balance (this wasn’t helped by the fact that I was only conscious around 2.5 seconds at this point). But thankfully, as we joined all the street’s residents on the road, it was over. “Only a 4 second shake” we were told. “And the building looks fine”. Well that’s reassuring I sarcastically thought to myself.
Unfortunately that wasn’t our last street meeting that night either. Just 2 hours later we were there again. Another 5.4 shake that somehow felt a lot lighter than the previous one. Possibly because we were ready for this one. The door open, the sleep was shallow and the legs were primed and ready. Me and Clíona shared a nervous laugh about how we had left our small bags ready to be grabbed by the door, but on both occasions, the bags were the last things we were worried about. Just like the night before, you get tunnel vision. You see the finish line and you get there as quick as you possibly can.
Sleep didn’t really come for the rest of the night. Our 7.50am flight, that was luckily booked from before the earthquake, meant that we were to leave at 5.30am. Ebed, our savior, drove us to the airport where we said our goodbyes. All he allowed us to give him was a hug. No money, not even for our room which he had paid for. Our only regret of the past 2 days was not asking for a picture with him. We will have to wait until we revisit our new friend. The airport was wedged with people, locals and tourists, as they took refuge in the secure structure. We felt so lucky and privileged to be able to walk by them all and check in. Despite our flight being delayed, we were constantly reminded of just how lucky we were/are as we watched the horrific scenes unfold on the news. We would soon be taking off and leaving this fear behind us. While these families must stay and piece their lives back together, all the time wondering when the next disaster might strike.
We are now in the safety of Bali where we will try our best to relax before flying home next week. The experience has left us with many emotions, but mainly sadness as we think of those people affected. Just like during the earthquake, there is now a sense of powerlessness as we return to our privileged lives. One thing we can do is donate to the Red Cross who are on the ground right now pulling victims from the rubble and who will be there to help rebuild these communities. Click https://redcross.give.asia/campaign/lombok-earthquake-response-public-appeal to bring you to the donation page where donating 200,000 Ruppiah will cost you 12 euro.
From Brian and Clíona, thank you for all the well wishes. And a special thank you to our new friend Ebed who helped us to remain safe during a scary and confusing time. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who families who’s lives have been altered so suddenly and sadly.