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Update on our Sumatra earthquake response

Indonesia, October 2, 2009

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I'm on the ground in Padang, a city of 900,000 people that was hard-hit by the earthquake that struck Sumatra on Wednesday. I arrived here last night from Jakarta, so it wasn't until this morning that I got the full effect of the devastation that occurred.

The destruction of some buildings here is unbelievable — signs that were above the doorways of shops are now laying on the sidewalk. The first floors disappeared entirely as the buildings fell. In other cases, walls crumbled inward. I heard one story about someone who was stopped in her car at an intersection when the earthquake struck. Her steering wheel started moving uncontrollably. It was, she said, the worst earthquake that she or any of her relatives had ever felt — and, in this part of Indonesia, there are many.

Besides the widespread devastation, there are many other signs and reminders of the earthquake's aftermath. The electricity is still off — I'm sitting here in the dark as I type this. The roads and bridges are severely damaged, so it's hard to get places. There is no water running through the pipes to people's houses. Prices for petrol have soared, and there are long lines at stations. There has also been a run on food at the few local stores that have reopened.

It's a tough environment in which to operate — but today we were out in some of the most-damaged areas, beginning our emergency response.

Three teams, which included staff from our local partner organization, went out to speak with displaced families and government authorities in and around Padang. We also held a coordination meeting with some of the largest international humanitarian organizations that are working here, just to make sure that we're working together to meet the most urgent needs around here.

The team here is amazing — truly dedicated. They are working hard in the heat and with no electricity or running water in our office, and look slightly worse for the wear but are full of spirit and eager to keep going on the response. Over the next days, we will be delivering hygiene supplies to families and setting up systems to provide clean water. We'll also be working to start a cash-for-work program so that families can earn a living wage while helping to clean up the city. This income will also help local businesses keep going during this challenging time.

I can sum up the atmosphere here in one word: busy. And we have to stay that way, because the needs are many. With your help, we'll be able to meet those needs and move toward helping families rebuild. Thank you for reading this, and for your support.