independent

Monday 16 September 2019

Paradise lost for couple in terror of Bali earthquake

Séamus and Laura relaxing at a beach bar just moments before the major earthquake struck
Séamus and Laura relaxing at a beach bar just moments before the major earthquake struck
Rescue teams search for victims in the rubble caused by the earthquake in North Lombok, Indonesia

Maria Pepper

A holiday in paradise turned into a terrifying experience for a Wexfordman and his girlfriend who were on the island of Bali during last week's devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake which killed hundreds of people and damaged thousands of homes, while five Wexford students who were due to travel to the epicentre of Lombok Island had to cancel their trip due to safety fears.

Séamus O' Sullivan (28), a native of Wexford town, was in Seminyak on the south coast of Bali, with his girlfriend Laura Keaveney (29), a pharmacist from Galway, when the first earthquake struck, having arrived in the country a few days earlier on a three-week trip.

'It was our last night in Seminyak and we were enjoying the evening with drinks on the beach. We decided to walk through one of the well-known beach clubs along the coast and it was at that moment we felt the tremor', he said.

'I first noticed the waves in the swimming pool gushing from side to side and drinks on the tables shaking and shattering to the ground. We were in the outdoor section but we could see inside the club on the second floor where panic was setting in with crowds of people pushing to get down the stairs.'

'People started running towards the grassy area away from the building, screaming 'earthquake'. It was only then that we realised what had happened', said Séamus, a hedge fund investment banker in Dublin.

When the tremors stopped, the couple made their way to the nearest exit and once outside they encountered an atmosphere of panic and chaos with a number of people collapsed on the street, suffering from head injuries.

'Mayhem set in at this point with people frantically looking for taxis to take the injured away and others ringing their relatives'', he said.

'We decided to return as quickly as we could to our hotel and all along the way we saw people lining the streets after running in panic out of restaurants and bars', said Séamus, a son of Detective Garda Dan O' Sullivan and his wife Eithne.

'Once we reached the hotel we realised there was a tsunami warning in place and as we were only one kilometres from the beach this was the most worrying part', he said. The tsunami alert was later lifted.

'We then felt another tremor of an aftershock which was accompanied with a loud thunder-like noise. Locals in the hotel assured us that the tsunami risk didn't extend to our area so we went to the room to let our families and friends know we were safe as it was all over the international news by this stage'.

Seamus described it as the 'most surreal and worrying few hours' and said no-one ever expects to find themselves in a situation like this.

The following day, the couple continued with their original plan to travel to Ubud in central Bali but they had to make alternative arrangements for the remainder of the trip, as their next stop was due to be Gili Twangan Island just off Lombok, followed by Lombok itself where the epicentre of the earthquake was situated.

'That night, there was another significant aftershock which shook the room we were staying in and that made up our minds that we needed to leave Bali as we no longer felt safe', he said.

'We were carrying our passports on us at all times and jumping at the slightest loud noise and it no longer felt like a holiday'.

Séamus and Laura booked the next available flight to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, much to the relief of their families who kept in contact with them throughout the ordeal.

They returned home to Ireland last Saturday. 'Overall a three-week stay in Bali was reduced to six nights', said Séamus.

They had been due to fly back from Lombok airport at the end of the trip, having flown into Denpasar Airport in Bali at the outset.

The second day (last Thursday) after arriving in Kuala Lumpur, another earthquake, of 6.2 magnitude hit Lombok again, causing further devastation.

'Neither of us had been to Bali before and we were looking forward to the trip of a lifetime. Sadly, it wasn't the case', said Séamus.

The couple said they both feel devastated for the residents of Bali and Lombok whom they described as the kindest and friendliest people they have ever encountered.

'Our thoughts are with the people of Lombok and Bali and we hope there will be no more destruction', they said.

Meanwhile five Wexford students on a three-week holiday taking in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, had to cancel the second leg of their trip and make emergency travel arrangements following the first Lombok earthquake.

David Dempsey, Jodie Browne, Conor Byrne, Ross Long and Conor Neville had been to Thailand and were in Vietnam and looking forward to a planned trip to Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands Islands.

They were scheduled to arrive in Lombok two days after the earthquake hit but when warnings were issued, advising tourists to stay away from the region, they were forced to cancel their plans at the last minute and they travelled instead to Cambodia.

A desperate rescue mission is continuing in Indonesia which was rocked by another tremor of 4.5 magnitude on Monday morning, the latest in a series of numerous aftershocks.

The exact death toll is not yet known as it is believed there may still be victims buried under landslides and collapsed buildings but it is estimated that the number of dead could be in excess of 400 people.

The region is in crisis as stranded villages are running out of food and clean water, and local hospitals are overcrowded with the injured.

Many thousands of people have been displaced as a result of damage to homes and buildings and are sleeping in makeshift tents by the roadsides and in fields, too afraid to be inside in case another tremor hits. After the first earthquake which caused devastation in the paradise islands of Lombok and Bali, thousands of tourists fled the area which is an idyllic tourist destination with white sandy beaches and rich marine life. Earthquakes are common in Indonesia. The islands form part of the Pacific 'Ring of Fire', a massive horseshoe-shaped arc of seismic and volcanic activity.

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