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Issue 285 – Frome student visits earthquake-stricken city

A FROME college student has described her experiences of visiting the earthquake stricken city of Padang.

Colleen Adams, 17, who is taking her A-levels at Frome college, visited the city six days after the Indonesian earthquake struck just to the north-west of the city. Colleen had been in Indonesia visiting her father, Mike, who works for the Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC). She had been learning about setting up emergency radio stations in areas hit by natural disasters, when the earthquake struck Padang.
Colleen said, “The idea was to spend five days in the classroom learning about using the equipment, and then set up an emergency station in Java for 72 hours as an exercise, but the earthquake changed the situation.”
After the earthquake on September 30th, which killed at least 700 people, the FEBC decided to abandon the exercise and travel to Padang to set up an emergency station for real.
An entire radio studio can be fitted into a suitcase, with a transmitter and antennae in two boxes. In such a devastating event, radio is often the only way to get information out across large distances.
Colleen said, “In the past we had gone to Sumatra, but decided the need in Padang was more immediate. It took longer than we expected to arrange transport to Padang. It was chaos.”
An advance team managed to get out there on the Sunday, with Colleen managing to get to the city on the Tuesday, travelling to a government building north of the city where the emergency station had been set up.
She said, “In a way the worst of it was over. Because it was a few days after the earthquake, a lot of clearing work had happened and people had stopped searching for survivors. Lots of houses were completely collapsed into matchsticks, but it was incredible that others next to them were still standing as if nothing had happened.”
“Almost every house had a blue tent outside from Oxfam. People didn’t want to leave their houses, but they weren’t safe staying in them, so were camping in their gardens.”
Colleen visited the radio station, which had started broadcasting advice, information and messages allowing people to find out about the fate of friends and family.
Colleen said, “One of the most important things is helping people trace relatives and friends, people text and phone in saying ‘I’m safe here’ or ‘I’m looking for this person’. It’s basically to help people cope with the trauma of what’s happened.
“Telling people exactly what’s going on is very important too, people often think the situation is worse than it is, so radio broadcast can help reduce the fear.”
As well as visiting the radio station, Colleen went to some emergency medical centres that had been established in the aftermath of the earthquake, where she interviewed some survivors about their experiences for a media studies project.
She then had to catch a flight back to Jakarta before flying home for the end of her scheduled trip to the Far East. Her father has remained in Padang continuing to work with the station.
Summing up visiting Padang Colleen said, “It was a really weird experience, but it was good to do. It was a very powerful experience, especially as I was so young to be out there, often on my own.”

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