The sheer scale of such disasters as the West Sumatra earthquakes leads to shock and awe. However, the tales of individuals offer hope and faith in the human condition.
I must confess, though, that I cannot understand what it is that can lead a terror suspect to be a volunteer in Padang. Perhaps, like the gawkers who flocked to Padang, he takes a perverse pleasure in the suffering of others.
Residents scoffed in disdain at the rubberneckers. One commodity the city definitely didn’t need to import was Jakarta-style traffic jams. And as the government rationed fuel and enormous lines formed at gas stations, townies expressed outrage that outsiders needlessly burned gas as they trolled around to take pictures of the devastation. The gawkers gobbled up the food at restaurants that offered only one dish, fried rice without vegetables, which was only available every other day due toshortages.
After the 7.6-magnitude earthquake, although some say it was of 7.9 magnitude, the government has stopped the search for survivors.
The official death toll has reached at least 1,115, most of whom were in Padang Pariaman with 675. Recorded deaths in the provincial capital Padang have reached at least 313.
The quake also severely injured 1,214 people and destroyed more than 135,000 homes and buildings.
At least 210 people are missing, buried under at least six landslides in the West Sumatra regency of Padang Pariaman. Due to the difficulty of unearthing the bodies, the local branch of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) does not object to these areas being declared mass graves.
However, in Padang just four people are recorded as missing, but the figure could be higher as records of commuters and other visitors are not kept.
Doddy, 27, believes his mother, Olinis, 50, is still alive, even though she has been missing for two weeks His relatives claimed to have seen Olinis on TV, caught running during the quake. A few days ago, they saw her on TV for a second time, sitting among the quake survivors waiting for their families to find them.
"We resorted to asking a shaman to help us find her, and were told she was alive but appeared to be too shocked to talk," Ari said.
With financial aid promised by central government, the focus is on clearing up the debris so that reconstruction can begin. This, of course, means that there is a rush to get on the gravy train without, I venture to suggest, much thought given to the next quake which many experts think will be much of a much greater magnitude.
Padang needs to be rebuilt away from the coastal plain as another quake could well generate a tsunami. Rebuilding or reconstruction will only be effective if local agencies work for the community rather than for themselves.
What's the betting that no-one will consider this? Few of those with access to the levers of power look beyond the envelopes under their noses.