CENTRAL SULAWESI, Indonesia
A magnitude 7.4 killer earthquake and a tsunami spared the small number of Indonesian tea gardens on the island of Sulawesi but obliterated local waterfront “teh” shops and restaurants in Palu and Donggala.
Officials with the Tea Board of Indonesia said there are no major tea gardens in the Central Sulawesi Province of 2.9 million people. It is a major seaweed and rice producing region with some coffee plantations in Mamasa, Enrekang, Gowa, Sinjal, and Utara dating back to 1850. The best-known coffees are from Toraja 375 miles to the south. Indonesia’s large tea plantations are mainly situated on the island of Java 970 miles southwest. The first trees were planted in 1684 and commercial production began in 1827.
The tea gardens near the Napu Valley, Central Sulawesi are 70 miles south and planted at 1000 meters above sea level. Malino Tea Plantation in Malino, near Gowa at the south end of the island, is probably the best known. The island produces only 1,000 metric tons of tea.
Search and rescue operations in coastal Palu shifted to recovery on Friday with 2,073 confirmed fatalities, more than 2,500 insured and reports of as many as 5,000 people still missing two weeks after the disaster unfolded. A magnitude 6.0 quake situated closer to the Island of Java brought down more structures Thursday.
Suharyo Husen, executive director of the Indonesia Tea Board writes, “from our observation, there is no impact from the disaster (quake and tsunami) to the tea plantations.”
Indonesia is the world’s sixth largest tea producer. Husen writes around 70 percent of the country’s 290,000 acres (117,000 hectares) under tea cultivation are in West Java (Badung) with smaller gardens in Central Java, East Java, North Sumatera and West Sumatera. The nearest gardens to the epicenter are in South Sulawesi about 465 miles (750 kilometers) south of Palu and Donggala.
Massive Asian quakes In Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand in recent years have spared tea gardens for the most part, with modest damage to factories and local landslides, but the tsunami that followed all three of these quakes wreaked havoc on coastal retail shops.
Simon Ferguson, managing director at PT Van Rees Indonesia and former procurement officer for Unilever Indonesia, said the quake will have no impact on the tea trade. “The city of Palu has been wiped out and many small shops, both formal and informal have been flattened,” he said. “As you well imagine human tragedy is the main story, not tea.”
Waterfronts are a favorite location for quaint tea shops and restaurants, Palu, a city of 335,000 people, was uniquely unfortunate in facing the giant wave. Geologists speculate the quake, which was centered 48 miles north of Palu, triggered a massive underwater landslide. The wave that followed reached 20 feet (6 meters) high and traveled at 250 miles per hour down the shallow bay. Rescuers estimate 60 percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed. Every building in the city suffered damage as the ground gave way. Soil loosened during the shaking and sank five or more feet in seconds, causing mudslides burying thousands in their collapsing homes.
There are 88,000 homeless. The government is preparing a mass grave. Donggala at the north end of the bay, was nearest the epicenter when the quake struck on Sept. 28. Red Cross staff said the tsunami wiped out every home along the shoreline in Banawa. Survivors have been evacuated—or have travelled independently—to neighboring houses in the hills, where they are in need of health care, tents, blankets, baby food, and diapers, according to an update on Relief Web, which provides assistance to relief under the direction of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).