Sulawesi quake

Couple reunited after wife was swept away

Mr Azwan with his wife Dewi in front of their home and family members in Palu, Central Sulawesi, on Monday, after an earthquake and tsunami hit the area last Friday. He spent two agonising days searching through makeshift morgues and hospitals before
Mr Azwan with his wife Dewi in front of their home and family members in Palu, Central Sulawesi, on Monday, after an earthquake and tsunami hit the area last Friday. He spent two agonising days searching through makeshift morgues and hospitals before reuniting with his wife, who had been swept away in the tsunami but survived.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PALU • It was two agonising days of searches through makeshift morgues and hospitals before Mr Azwan found his wife Dewi alive and well after she was swept away in the tsunami that crashed into the Indonesian city of Palu.

Recounting the story beside her at a small roadside stall in the quake-hit city, the 38-year-old civil servant struggled to keep his emotions in check, tears welling up.

"I was so happy, so emotional - thank God I could see her again," Mr Azwan, who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name, told Agence France-Presse.

His is a rare story of hope, in a place where the sense of despair, grief and loss hangs thick.

Ms Dewi was registering guests for a festival at a beachside hotel when the tremor sent a jolt through the ground. Soon, a wall of water was rushing at her.

"A wave came and hit me hard. When I regained consciousness, suddenly I was on the street in front of the hotel. I remember hearing people shouting, 'Tsunami! Tsunami!' " she said.

Her clothes ripped and torn, she wandered through the debris-littered streets until she found an evacuation post, where she stayed overnight.

 
 
 

"No food, no water," she recalled. "We were told to wait until it was safe, while the aftershocks kept coming."

On the other side of the city, her husband was stricken with worry, having survived the quake with their young daughter, but without news of his wife.

After night fell, he began the grim task that would consume him for close to 48 hours: Checking patients and body bags at the city's overrun medical centres.

"When I couldn't find my wife in any of the bags, I went back to the hospital, the police hospital, and checked the morgue," he said. "There was a massive amount of dead bodies there. It was so messy - on the terrace, inside, on top of each other."

On Sunday, just as he was beginning to accept "God's way", his wife appeared, injured and limping towards the family home.

"When she got off the motorbike, it was euphoria," he said.

"Everyone was crying. Our relatives broke into tears; they came to hug her."

Ms Dewi thanked God she was given "another chance", but was still struggling to come to grips with the ordeal.

"Even now, I can't believe I am here alive," she said.

"I am still traumatised, especially because my sibling has not yet been found."

At least 1,234 people are already known to have died in the twin disaster, but officials say that number is certain to rise.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has warned that 191,000 people are in urgent need of help, among them 46,000 children and 14,000 elderly folk.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2018, with the headline 'Couple reunited after wife was swept away'. Print Edition | Subscribe