I keep playing it over in my head. Every little moment leading up to, during and after.
It still feels surreal. That it happened. We were in an earthquake and we survived. The crazy thing is the amount of guilt I feel around it. Almost that I’m not allowed to feel sad, scared or that I have some form of PTSD because the people of North Lombok are in crisis. A natural disaster is one thing. They have been hit by several earthquakes rocking that island to its core. Villages are out of reach and in desperate need of medical attention. People are dying outside of hospitals and have been stranded without water and food. So please more than praying, donate. I am sharing some links below and google is an amazing place to start. Every cent helps.
I wanted to share our story. Not only to share a few facts but to also get the thoughts out of my head. To help with processing the most fearful event of my life.
On the afternoon of August 5th, we went snorkelling on Neighbouring island Gili Meno. The wind had picked up and we decided that it was time to head home. We watched the sunset on the western side of Gili Trawangan and decided rather than heading home to shower we would grab a bite to eat then turn in. My partner and I both feel that this was a critical decision which resulted in keeping us safe. Why? Because we decided to eat at Pituq warung a local eatery situated in the middle of the island constructed from traditional island materials, bamboo and wood.
No concrete or tall buildings surrounded us.
Waiting for our dessert; the earthquake hit.
It struck on the western side of Lombok. The same side as the Gili Islands.
I just grabbed Lauren’s arm as she looked at me and exhaled earthquake. The quake lasted for what seemed like a minute building into a crescendo of smashing glasses and panic. the lights flickered and then suddenly, darkness swallowed us.
Within seconds we were surrounded by screaming.
From all angles of the island.
The owners of Pituq came to check on us and instantly I called my mom in South Africa. I told her not to panic and that I was safe but I needed to know about a tsunami warning. I also called my close friend, Kyle Mijlof who kept me updated with news across his channels. (He is the smartest guy I know and is the guy who knows what to do when you need to know something fast. like whether the earthquake you just experienced comes with Tsunami in tow)
A warning had been issued. People were told to move away from the beaches and to higher ground if possible.
The one (and only) hill on Gili T sits at 30m above sea level. Hardly higher ground. The island is 3km long and 2 km wide.
All you could hear in the darkness was the sound of hysterical people screaming to "head for the hill" and "the tsunami is coming".
We decided that joining the mayhem and running through the narrow island lanes past walls and concrete structures was not the answer and instead stayed with the locals at the warung who cautioned that the hill had many snakes and if there was indeed a tsunami the hill would not suffice anyway. It was as safe as it was going to get.
We then decided to head to an open field just outside the warung. A place where nothing could fall on us should the aftershocks cause additional damage. As we were leaving the warung, an aftershock hit. The ground turned to jelly and all that I knew wasn’t my reality. The ground shouldn’t feel like water. Unstable and unsure of itself.
An electricity pole came crashing down just down one of the alleyways next to the warung.
We ran to the middle of the field grabbing water and a light. Surrounded by pitch black darkness we decided to sit tight and wait it out.
After an hour of waiting and feeling several additional aftershocks beneath us, we realized we had to try to make our way back to the accommodation. It’s unbelievable how you can lose track of all orientation in that darkness and even though we were so sure that we knew where we were going - we got lost. We were found by a local on a bicycle and managed to tell him where we lived. He cycled us to the open football field in the interior where we found hundreds of locals on the field crying and praying. A man came to us, gave us water and told us that we needed to get our passports, important documents and return to the field to sleep in the open away from all buildings, walls and structures.
We rushed to our guest house, where we discovered that the roof had fallen in. The deep fear of entering a building after witnessing the liquidity of concrete in the face of an earthquake is something I can’t explain. We rushed in and grabbed warm clothes and passports. Once safely out we made our way to the football field. We lay down in the middle of it surrounded by groups of people chanting prayers.
This. Is. Really. Happening.
We spent the night surrounded by people screaming for doctors to help those in need. People that buildings had collapsed on, people trapped under rubble, children crying and women wailing. We did not sleep.
With sunrise came the decision to head back to the guest house, pack up all of our belongings and head to the beach and find the first boat out of the island. Whilst packing up we felt another powerful shudder. Nerves on edge we managed to get out and joined throngs of locals carrying their belongings to the beach to try and get transport over to their families on Lombok.
Then it really hit. With sunrise, the reality of the situation could no longer be concealed. Seeing how the small island of Gili T had been ripped apart at the seams was surreal. Glass had exploded out of shop fronts, double stories had collapsed, walls were reduced to rubble and the magnificent white mosque had crumbled. People were flocking and heading toward the boats.
The en masse exodus of Gili Trawangan was underway.
On the beachfront, we stumbled on a makeshift hospital giving critical medical care to the injured while waiting for them to be airlifted out of the chaos.
It could have been us. But it wasn’t. So we had to focus on how to get off.
The locals were in a panic and rightfully so. Their families were on Lombok at the epicentre of the quake and many of them had lost loved ones. They needed to get home.
When the first of the fast boats arrived, people swarmed the boats with all that they had. Locals and tourists alike; but the most surprising thing to see was how many tourists couldn’t deal with the lack of preferential treatment. Somehow expecting to get some sort of allowance for survival due to their holidaymaker status.
It saddened me to see some (westerners) screaming at locals as if somehow they deserved rescue or survival more than them. I've always thought that Hollywood demonised humans in the way that they are painted as losing humanity or any sense of a moral compass in extenuating circumstances, but I now know that this is indeed a reality at least where some folks are concerned. People resorted to looting shops. Punching each other to get ahead and pulling others off of the boats in order to get on themselves.
Most of the day was spent trying to find water as all of the shops were closed and the electricity and water supply was cut. A large portion of time was spent trying to find out information on what was actually happening with the evacuation.
We soon realized it wasn’t going to happen. So many people wanted off and there simply weren’t enough boats.
I decided to take to the streets with my camera to try and make sense of the chaos and also made the decision to fly my drone in an effort to capture the situation from a bird's eye view.
I wanted to try and somehow capture the desperation to get off this small island which could only really be achieved from a distance.
By late afternoon 3 big vessels arrived on the horizon. Hope. The only problem? They couldn’t get to us. We had to wait for a smaller boat that would ferry us over to them and it wasn’t anywhere in sight.
The very small pier that once existed on Gili T had been reduced to a handful of pillars reaching up out to nowhere in the ocean.
We decided to offer our help and ended up preparing food for hungry souls who hadn’t eaten since the previous night's events. One of the local restaurants, The Irish opened their kitchen and Lauren and I managed to get stuck in. Preparing all the food we could find at the instruction of the manager - we emptied out their stores.
After cooking everything we could find and distributing it soup kitchen style with the help of Irish staff, we managed to eat a small bowl of food to accompany our day's haul consisting of a packet of Oreos before we made our way back to the beach. The sun had set and it was now dark again.
Where were we going to sleep? We had made peace that we weren’t getting off the island and that we were going to have to spend another night on it. Debating whether we were going to sleep on the hill, the field or the beach we walked back to our bags on the beach. We saw a small ferry boat that was running, loading people in the dark taking them onto the larger ferries further out to sea. That was it.
We ran, grabbed our things and headed towards the swarms of people pushing towards the boat. With a bit of patience and persistence, we managed to get on after 5 hours of pushing and shoving.
We had made it. We were on our way to the slow ferry that would take us back to Bali. As we got on the ferry another shudder hit. A 5.0 earthquake had struck again. This time 2km offshore from the Gili islands. Friends of ours that were still on the island recalled the screams and hysteria that followed the quake at 11h50pm.
To say we were deeply grateful we had escaped is an understatement.
We managed to find a spot on the floor of the ferry. Our bed for the next 8 hours. After 36 hours of no sleep and pure adrenaline, we were shattered. We tossed and turned in rough seas. Just praying for it to be over.
We arrived the next morning back in Bali.
Tired, emotional and ready to collapse.
We made sure we had something to eat, a hot shower and a good nights sleep.
I think that’s why I have this over whelming sense of guilt. I got to do that. Shower, eat and sleep. In a clean warm bed on the other side of Bali in Canggu. Safe. Traumatized but safe.
Every loud sound or rattle sends me into a panic. It’s so wild.
I just can’t get the people of north Lombok out of my mind. They have been dealing with the aftermath of numerous earthquakes in the region for the past 2 weeks and are deeper in crisis than I could ever imagine.
So please. If you have made it to the end of my post. Donate. Share the information and ask everyone to step in. It’s our duty when others fall down to lift them up because it could so easily be the other way around. You too could be eating dinner when it happens or lose a loved one to an event like this. There is no discrimination.
Thank you to all the news channels who shared my images.
I am so grateful that I could share this story with the world through the pictures that I took. They say more than I ever could.
The majority of the damage is in Lombok and Lombok regions. Not Bali. So if you plan on visiting do your research before cancelling or changing your trip