Family and friends,
We are very glad to say we are safely out of the earthquake affected zone around Lombok, Indonesia. Here is our account of the last 72 hours. Hopefully it will give anyone with loved ones in the area some insight and also help us to process the events. Please feel free to SHARE.
We began our honeymoon with four beautiful nights in the rainforest area of Ubud. Then, on Sunday 5th, we travelled to Gili Trawangan, a small island and resort west of Lombok. Shortly after arriving at our hotel we decided to head out for food. Noting that our hotel’s restaurant was empty, we instead walked 200 meters down the road to a place right on the beach with a bit more atmosphere. Waiting for our meal to arrive and chatting about how amazing the place was, the ground suddenly began to shake violently. It was quickly apparent that this was an earthquake and, as we could tell the frenzied reactions of the restaurant staff, a big one. The initial tremor probably lasted for about a 40 seconds, though it felt much longer at the time.
After the ground settled, we agreed the best action would be to get back to our hotel asap and follow their protocols. After all, earthquakes weren’t uncommon in the area, with Lombok experiencing one the week before. The path back was dark so we used my phone torch to find our way. We could see long but narrow cracks had opened up on the ground. Reaching the hotel, we were struck by a dramatic scene. The restaurant’s roof had completely collapsed, as had a number of other buildings, with others showing big cracks and broken windows.
We saw a group of locals and tourists hurrying down a pathway that led behind the hotel so we joined on. Amongst the chaos and frantic voices in numerous languages, we heard one word repeatedly mentioned… “tsunami”. It hadn’t even occurred to us, but a big wave was of course was a very real possibility after such a massive shock. People were also shouting about the water level dropping dramatically around the island, a common precursor to a tsunami wave. We then realised everyone was running inland and, if possible, to higher ground. The pathway eventually opened up into a more open area but with uneven ground, littered with debris and sharp fallen palm leaves, which was difficult to navigate, particularly in flip flops. At this point we teamed up with a Dutch family and an Italian couple – also on honeymoon – making a human chain to help us stick together. After 10 minutes of walking we saw a hill, the only one on the island, and lots of flickering lights moving up it. The climb up the hill was difficult with steep, sandy slopes. Each time we got to a flat area, everyone would settle before agreeing we needed to go higher. We climbed for around 20 minutes until we reached the top. When we got there, we heard other people running through the trees screaming. They had been on the opposite side of the island and had made their way up the hill too. As they approached we could also hear what sounded like a rushing water. This was a truly terrifying moment as we anticipated a wave coming towards us. In a blind panic many people began climbing trees. We saw others who had taken life jackets and nets containing plastic bottles for buoyancy with them.
After a minute or so, we came to conclusion that there sound of water was just wind coming through the trees. Another tremor hit us, not as bad as the first but enough to produce more screams from the now hundreds of people around us. Then another tremor and another. Thoughts now turned to our surroundings and the need to find open space, without the threat of falling trees. Luckily, some locals were familiar enough with the hill to guide the rest of us through what was now a dark and disorientating environment. Once we found a suitable space, we copied the locals and sat down on the ground. Every tremor or gust of wind triggered a chain reaction of panic with people repeatedly standing back up before settling down again. As more and more people arrived, it was clear we needed a bigger space so we moved to another nearby opening. Although much larger, a tall communications mast overlooked the area, which would have surely caused more devastation if it were to fall.
We huddled together on the ground with the family, couple and some others from neighbouring hotels. Despite intermittent tremors, we were able to gather our thoughts. The family had a young boy and there were several other children nearby so we did our best to try to reassure and comfort them. We were still, of course, very worried, not only for own safety but knowing that inevitably others must have been less fortunate than us during the initial shock. Those with internet access were able to check news reports. The main tremor had been 7.0 on the richter scale but, to everyone’s relief, there was no tsunami warning in place yet. Others on the hill top had various injuries – many with cuts on their arms and legs and one girl nearby with a bad head injury. Dehydration was another potential hazard, with the arduous climb and warm evening making everyone very thirsty. Thankfully, we had a couple of bottles of water between our group, rationing out sips when needed.
Not long after, we heard that a tsunami alert had been issued but, because the epicentre of the earthquake had been just north of Lombok, the wave hadn’t had time to build and so was only 50cm high when it reached the island. Huge relief was felt by all.
With the threat of another big shock ever present, the vast majority of people decided to stay on the hill top until first light, which would be at about 6am. Most people were only wearing t-shirts and shorts or summer dresses, with a few even in their swimming costumes. Hannah and I curled up next to each together under a thin blanket we found on the way up. Luckily the temperature didn’t drop too much and, with the blanket and our combined body heat, we were just about able to stay warm enough. The night sky was completely clear and we could see the milky way with perfect clarity as well as Mars and the odd shooting star. It felt incredibly surreal.
We waited until first light and then, together with our new companions, carefully navigated our way back down the hill, led by two of the staff from our hotel who happened to be near us. We learned as we walked that the Dutch family were Christians like us, so we prayed together which gave us some comfort. As we reached the hotels and surrounding buildings at the perimeter of the island, the full scale of destruction became apparent. Almost every building had suffered severe damage, most beyond repair. We reached the back entrance to our hotel and soon located our villa. The front porch ceiling had collapsed but, after one of the staff members bravely opened the front door for us, we were relieved to see that the internal ceilings were intact, despite some cracks. We decided to try to retrieve our stuff from inside so I ran in and out a few times and grabbed everything I could. Because we hadn’t had a chance to unpack yet, it didn’t take long to get almost everything important. The others with us weren’t so lucky with their rooms much more heavily damaged and too dangerous to enter.
We then all made our way to the front of the hotel. When we got there a staff member told us to walk to the main harbour where boats would evacuate us from the island. The mayhem that followed, as frantic attempts to evacuate the thousands of tourists and locals began, has been well documented in the news. Locals were given total priority as they scrambled on the first boats, leaving tourists – even families with young children and babies – behind to watch and wait hours in the baking sun for their turn. There is so much more we could write about that day, but the important thing is that eventually at about 11.30pm we were finally moved on to a big boat, which sailed us back to Bali and safety.
After 12 hours in the airport, we flew out to Oz early this morning and checked into a hotel just north of Cairns. So now we’re going to have a couple of quiet days to recover and then try to get back on track with our honeymoon, determined not to let the events of the last few days beat us.
Thank you all for the loving messages. Our thoughts are now with the families of the 14 or more casualties from the island and the many more who were killed or injured on Lombok and we’d ask you all to join us in praying for them. We’d also like to say thank you to the many locals who helped us throughout our time in Indonesia, before, during and after the earthquake ordeal. We can honestly say that the Balinese are some of the kindest people we’ve ever met. A particular thanks to our tour operator, Destination Asia, who have been in touch constantly – you guys are awesome.
Love, Josh & Hannah
P.S. the photo attached is from about 20 seconds before the earthquake hit.