Aid trickling in as Indonesia death toll passes 1,400
PALU, Indonesia — For some who survived the massive earthquake and tsunami on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island last week, the memories and the horror from a disaster that has left more than 1,400 people dead are both hard to erase and understand. Nature simply unleashed its fury on them.
Furniture maker Khairul Hassan recalled working at a shop near the beach in front of a row of warehouses when the earth began shaking violently last week. He ran to a nearby hill and watched as the ocean heaved up and hurled forward. Now he can’t forget.
“I saw the waves come and sweep out everything — buildings, factories, warehouses and some people who were lost, racing from the waves, some of them women and children,” he said Wednesday. “Also, warehouse workers who were trapped under goods, all swept by the sea. It’s so tragic. It’s so scary to remember.”
The official death toll increased to 1,407, with thousands injured and more than 70,000 displaced from their homes, said national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
He said the number of dead would increase, but that rescue crews had reached all affected areas.
Aid was slowly making its way into areas devastated by the twin disasters, with one neighborhood’s residents clapping, cheering and high-fiving in their excitement Wednesday at seeing a stopped truck laden with supplies.
“I’m so happy,” said Heruwanto, 63, who goes by one name. He was clutching a box of instant noodles. “I really haven’t eaten for three days.”
Food, water, fuel and medicine was still slow to reach the hardest-hit areas outside Palu, the largest city heavily damaged in Friday’s disaster. Many roads were broken and split by the violent shaking or blocked by debris. Communications remained limited.
The U.N. humanitarian office said “needs are vast,” with people urgently requiring shelter, clean water, food, fuel and emergency medical care.
Meanwhile, a volcano erupted Wednesday morning in another part of Sulawesi island, about 940 kilometers (585 miles) northeast of the earthquake zone, spitting a plume of ash more than 6,000 meters (20,680 feet) into the sky. Planes were warned of the cloud billowing from Mount Soputan because the material can be hazardous for aircraft engines, but no evacuations were ordered in the area.
Experts said it’s possible the quake accelerated the eruption, but there is no concrete evidence to prove that. Activity at the volcano had been increasing since August and began surging on Monday, Kasbani, who heads Indonesia’s Vulcanology and Geology Disaster Mitigation agency and uses one name, told an online news portal.
At the quake zone, water is the main issue because most of the supply infrastructure has been damaged, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. He said the government was coordinating emergency efforts, and that U.N. and relief agencies were on the ground or en route.
“We feel like we are stepchildren here because all the help is going to Palu,” said Mohamad Taufik, 38, from the town of Donggala, where five of his relatives are still missing. “There are many young children here who are hungry and sick, but there is no milk or medicine.”
More than 25 countries offered assistance after Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appealed for international help. Little of that, however, has reached the disaster zone, and increasingly desperate residents grabbed food and fuel from damaged stores and begged for help.
Widodo visited the disaster zone Wednesday, saying there’s still work to be done, but that conditions were improving with businesses starting to reopen, helping people to start returning their lives to normal. He said President Donald Trump called him Tuesday night, offering assistance.
“We are going in phases. There are lots of things happening related to evacuation, as aid and fuel are also coming in,” he said, noting that 30 people remain buried under rubble at the Roa Roa Hotel in Palu. “Every province has different cases, including security.”
Some homeless residents weren’t waiting for help. Dozens sifted through what remained of a flattened complex of warehouses along Palu’s ravaged coastline, looking for anything they could salvage to either sell or help them rebuild. They carted away corrugated metal, wood, piping and other items.
“We have to do this because there’s no assistance from the government,” said Zaitun Rajamangili, 41, adding that his home was swept away but his family survived.
An aircraft carrying 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons) of fuel had arrived, and trucks with food were on the way with police escorts to guard against looters. Many gas stations were inoperable either because of quake damage or from people stealing fuel, national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in Jakarta.
Indonesian military chief Hadi Tjahyanto said one armed soldier and one armed police officer would be placed on every aid truck and soldiers would be sent to secure markets, the airport and fuel depots to maintain order. He added that a Singaporean military transport plane will help evacuate victims from the airport in Palu.
In addition, aircraft from South Korea, the United Kingdom and Japan were expected to ferry aid.
Teams continued searching for survivors under destroyed homes and buildings.
Australia announced it will send 50 medical professionals as part of a $3.6 million aid package. The United States and China are among other countries that have offered assistance.
The U.N.’s Haq said the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs has asked the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, to send social workers to the affected area to support children who are alone or became separated from their families. And he said the World Health Organization is warning that a lack of shelter and damaged water sanitation facilities could lead to outbreaks of communicable diseases.
Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 260 million people, is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. A powerful quake on the island of Lombok killed 505 people in August. /atm
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