Today Mercy Corps carried out a distribution in Surantiah, a village in the district of Pesisir Selatan, about three and a half hours south of Padang City. The drive took us on a winding road between mountains and paddy fields on one side, and the sea on the other. In some places, the road still showed the effects of the landslides that the earthquake had knocked down over it.
In Painan, the small city that is the capital of Pesisir Selatan, we stopped to meet with government officials at the informal headquarters they had set up to gather and disseminate earthquake information. Painan is a lovely city, set in a hollow surrounded by hills and open to a bay — a nightmare scenario for a tsunami. Along the main roads of the town are small signs marking the tsunami evacuation route up into the hills.
After listening to the government team explain the damages from the earthquake and the small assistance they had been receiving, we continued along the coast to Surantiah, a small town clustered around a muddy but extensive market area. The distribution was in the village office, where women and a few men crowded into the room and then walked up one by one, smiling shyly as their names were called, to receive hygiene kits: buckets, mosquito nets, blankets, soap, sanitary products and supplies for other basic needs.
As the distribution continued in the hall, we went around to visit some of the damaged houses of the people we were distributing to. The elderly, fragile men and women with colorful headscarves invited us into their elderly, fragile homes. The brick walls, held together with thick crusts of mortar, had just crumbled and fallen away during the earthquake. In other houses the cement floor was cracked into shards.
Most of the families living in these houses had moved into neighbors’ or family houses, but some had just stayed where they were, sleeping in a bed that looked out into nothingness where a wall had been. When we asked, they proudly showed us the hygiene kits they had just received, to give them a few comforts as they start to rebuild.