Searching for home in Palu village swallowed by devastating quake, tsunami

In this photo taken on October 6, 2018, Nonlis Kando (R), 35, stands among debris in Petobo, Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi, following the September 28 earthquake and tsunami. Stepping gingerly through the pulverised remnants of her Indonesian village, Nonlis Kando spotted a white shoebox imprinted with neon red lips sticking up from the ruins, and burst into tears. / AFP PHOTO / YUSUF WAHIL

Stepping gingerly through the pulverized remnants of her Indonesian village, Nonlis Kando spotted a white shoebox imprinted with neon red lips sticking up from the ruins, and burst into tears.

The 35-year-old office worker had found her home — or what was left of it after an earthquake and tsunami obliterated parts of Palu on Sulawesi island.

A week after the twin disaster killed more than 1,600 people, Kando returned to her neighborhood for the first time since running for her life as the world around her collapsed.

Petobo, a cluster of villages in Palu, was one of the worst-hit.

Much of it was sucked whole into the ground, as the vibrations from the quake turned soil to quicksand in a process known as liquefaction.

It is feared that beneath the crumbled rooftops and twisted rebar, a vast number of bodies remain entombed.

Aghast at the totality of devastation, barely a vertical structure remaining, Kando joined shell-shocked neighbors as they staggered through their unrecognizable community.

But her mood quickly shifted from horror to grief as she spotted the empty shoebox, and realized the sickening mash of mud and concrete at her feet once housed her worldly possessions.

“Now, the house is here, behind me. But before it was right over there,” she says, staring in disbelief.

“That’s my home, down there,” she said, pointing at a soil-clad rug and some familiar tiles, something that holds memories on top of this giant stinking pile of mud.

She noticed a binder holding certificates and important personal documents, the reason she returned in the first place.

This will make life easier, she said, easier to rebuild her life.

But the impact of her discovery — and realization of everything that’s lost — makes her emotional.

“I feel like when it happened the first time. My feet haven’t stopped trembling,” she said, her voice cracking.

The scale of the task ahead is enormous. For now she’s living with her parents, many miles away.

But she struggles to imagine what life will now be like for her, her husband Michael and their two young daughters.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” she says.

For now, she will make do with the documents and the comfort of a few fragments her old life salvaged from her home.

A pair of metal bowls, a serving tray, a man’s watch and a chipped plate.

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