Frontline view by a doctor doing Indonesian earthquake relief work

Dr. John Julyadharma is an Indonesian medical doctor working with MSF in the emergency relief operation in Padang, Indonesia, where an earthquake hit on 30 September. This is his report.

"Not much damage." This was my first impression when I flew into Padang city on October 3 from Maluku Province, where I used to work in a primary health care centre. It was the third day after the earthquake struck Sumatra and soon I discovered that my impression was completely wrong.

In fact, I changed my mind as I travelled from the airport to MSF's office in Padang when our driver told me about the impact the earthquake had had on his family. Also, I could see people using the river as their key water source for bathing and washing clothes and dishes. It is a common practice in some remote parts of Indonesia, but this should not be the case in Padang, the capital city of West Sumatra.

I also noticed a strange pattern of collapsed buildings – some were totally destroyed, while some next to the rubble were untouched.

I felt guilty about my first impression after I made an assessment in Padang Pariaman (a district near Padang city) nearest to the epicentre and very badly affected by the earthquake. In many villages more than 90 per cent of the houses had either totally collapsed or could not be used. It was raining heavily but villagers were mostly living outside their homes, sleeping on tarpaulins (some lucky ones had been given a tent or better temporary shelter.) In Indonesia, when it rains, it really rains.

I saw a school that had completely collapsed and the students studying in tents. I saw a Puskesmas (a primary health centre) that was so damaged it could not be used, but the healthcare workers were there helping other villagers despite the fact that they too had been victims of the earthquake.

All that I have seen so far may not be the worst, because I have still to visit the worst area. But it is already enough to show me that I was totally wrong, and it is enough to prove that there is a lot that MSF can do for the people.

> Photo Story: One month after the Indonesian earthquake
> Special Report: Natural disasters in Asia Pacific