Survivors begin to leave quake-stricken town in Indonesia as frustration grows over relief effort
Survivors were leaving the disaster-hit region of Central Sulawesi on Thursday out of frustration with what they said was the slow provision of assistance from the Indonesian government and aid agencies in the aftermath of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami.
Widely reported shortages of food, water, gasoline and other necessities have led to looting of damaged shops and supermarkets in Palu, the provincial capital of 380,000 residents near the quake’s epicenter.
Though a few positive signs were emerging in the shattered city — with access to water restored for some residents — relief remained slow to arrive on damaged roads and ground that had churned into mud. Residents said there isn’t enough food and water for the thousands of injured and 70,000 left homeless.
“The last I heard, my brother was picking up my mother and father in Palu to evacuate to another district,” said Imade Boby, a Jakarta resident whose parents and relatives live in Palu. He said the family hoped to travel by boat or by road to an area of Parigi Moutong, north of Palu, that was less affected by the disaster.
“The communications are bad. It is hard to keep up to date,” Boby said, expressing relief that his family survived the disaster.
Officials said Thursday that 1,424 people had died in the quake and an ensuing tsunami that reached as high as 20 feet and crashed over coastal parts of Central Sulawesi, a region almost 1,000 miles east of the Indonsian capital, Jakarta.
Hundreds have been buried this week in mass funerals to reduce the risk of disease spreading. Thousands have been evacuated by sea, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the national disaster agency spokesman, told reporters in Jakarta.
Despite promises of relief and the Indonesian government’s acceptance of international assistance, emergency crews were still struggling to reach areas outside Palu that were cut off by debris and damaged roads.
The aid effort so far has been concentrated in Palu, which has an airport where military flights have been able to deliver some relief. By midweek, heavy-lifting equipment was helping to clear rubble and assist in the increasingly desperate search for survivors buried under toppled buildings.
A man looks over lines of containers as people queue up Friday at a gas station in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.(Dita Alangkara / AP)
A survivor cries as he offers Friday prayers at a makeshift camp outside the damaged Agung Darussalam mosque in Palu.(Mohd Rasfan / AFP/Getty Images)
Survivors offer Friday prayers at a makeshift camp outside a damaged mosque in Palu.(Mohd Rasfan / AFP/Getty Images)
Indonesian rescuers try to free 15-year-old earthquake survivor Nurul Istikhomah from the flooded ruins of a collapsed house in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. Istikhamah has been trapped in the water for two days.(Aimacs Wilander / EPA-EFE/REX)
This aerial picture shows the remains of a 10-story hotel in Palu, Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi after it collapsed following a strong earthquake in the area.(Azwar / AFP / Getty Images)
A woman cries as people assess the damage after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island.(Muhammad Rifki / AFP/Getty Images)
Family members carry the body of a relative to a police hospital in Palu, Indonesia following a strong earthquake in the area.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
Medical team members help patients outside a hospital after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on Sept. 29, 2018.(Muhammad Rifki / AFP/Getty Images)
A doctor examines an injured child outside at an army hospital following earthquakes and a tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.(Tatan Syuflana / AP)
Indonesian men check the body of earthquake and tsunami victims as they look for their relatives at a police hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.(Mast Irham / EPA-EFE/REX )
Residents look for their belongings amid the debris of destroyed houses in Palu, Indonesia.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
People walk along an Indonesian beach that was hit by a tsunami in Palu in Central Sulawesi after a strong earthquake and tsunami struck the area.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
A man collects valuable materials from a beach that was hit by a tsunami in Palu in Central Sulawesi after a strong earthquake and tsunami struck the area.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue personnel evacuate earthquake survivor Ida, a food vendor, from the rubble of a collapsed restaurant in Palu, Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
People attempt to identify the bodies of their relatives at a police hospital in Palu, Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi on Sept. 30, 2018, following a strong earthquake in the area.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
The hand of an earthquake victim is seen inside a body bag at a police hospital in Palu, Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
People survey the damage following a massive earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia on Sunday.(Rifki / AP)
People survey damage outside a shopping mall following earthquakes and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.(Tatan Syuflana / AP)
People survey the damage in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Rifki / AP)
Rescuers remove bodies Sunday in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Basarnas Handout / EPA-EFE/REX )
People try to identify the bodies of relatives at the compound of a police hospital in Palu on Sunday.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
Two Indonesians make off with a big-screen TV looted from a ruined shopping mall Sunday in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Mast Irham / EPA-EFE/REX )
Men make off with goods looted from a damaged shopping mall in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Mast Irham / EPA-EFE/REX )
People queue up for gasoline Sunday in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Tatan Syuflana / AP)
People survey damage outside a shopping mall Sunday in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Tatan Syuflana / AP)
An army doctor examines an injured child outside at army hospital following earthquakes and a tsunami in Palu, Indonesia.(Tatan Syuflana / AP)
Indonesian survivors check the body of earthquake and tsunami victims as they look for their relatives at a police hospital in Palu, Indonesia.(Olagondronk/EPA-EFE/REX)
A photo made available by the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) shows the coastal area of Palu city, Indonesia, on Saturday after an earthquake and tsunami hit the region.(BNPB/Handout/EPA-EFE/REX)
Cars are stacked and destroyed following a tsunami in Palu, Indonesia.(Wilander/EPA-EFE/REX )
An Indonesian man hugs his daughter who survived the earthquakes and tsunami as they reunite at an open air camp in Palu, Indonesia.(Mast Irham/EPA-EFE/REX)
A tsunami destroyed the Jembatan Empat bridge in Palu, Indonesia.(Wilander/EPA-EFE/REX )
Indonesian earthquake and tsunami survivors receive medical treatment outside a military hospital in Palu, Indonesia.(Mast Irham/EPA-EFE/REX)
Indonesian men check the bodies of earthquake and tsunami victims as they look for their relatives at a police hospital in Palu, Indonesia.(Mast Irham/EPA-EFE/REX)
A man looks for his belongings amid the debris of his destroyed house in Palu, Indonesia.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
People walk along a beach that was hit by a tsunami in Palu, Indonesia.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
A French rescue team said Thursday that its sensors had detected “the presence of a victim” in the rubble of a five-story hotel, but wasn’t able to determine whether the person was conscious, the Associated Press reported.
Getting supplies to outlying areas, or bringing in excavators and other heavy equipment to assist in digging through debris, has proved more difficult and contributed to survivors’ frustration.
“The road access is not easy at all. Many are cracked or blocked by trees, power lines, parts of buildings,” said Husni, community engagement coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Like a number of Indonesians, Husni goes by one name.
Irwan Firdaus, advocacy manager with the aid agency Oxfam, said by phone from Palu that more heavy equipment was needed on the roads outside the town.
“There are problems to deliver assistance: water, food, water purification,” Firdaus said.
The challenges for aid workers are compounded by Indonesia’s geography: Its 17,000 islands stretch across a distance about as great as that from Alaska to New York and sit on an area of heavy tectonic activity known as the Ring of Fire, which sees frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
On Wednesday, the volcano Mt. Soputan spewed ash 13,000 feet into the skies above Central Sulawesi. Although the eruption was not deemed a threat to the disaster-hit Palu region or to aircraft attempting to deliver aid, it highlighted the challenges of getting urgent help to remote regions of the archipelago.
With Palu’s damaged airport only able to handle a limited number of flights, an aid ship was dispatched Sunday from Jakarta and took until Thursday to reach Makassar, the biggest city on the island of Sulawesi. The cargo, including much-needed food and medical equipment, would take “probably another 24 hours” to be brought by road to Palu, nearly 600 miles north, Husni said.
In recent days, Red Cross teams have fanned out to areas outside Palu, where grim accounts of the devastation underlined officials’ warnings that the death toll would continue to rise as damage in those areas was fully assessed.
Balaroa, a village of about 2,000, “was really flattened,” Husni said. Satellite maps and aerial images captured since the quake show little more than bare earth where hundreds of houses stood before the quake and tsunami last Friday.
It was one of several locations that suffered a quake-related phenomenon known as liquefaction, which turns solid ground into a churning mire that swallows up buildings and anything else on the surface, or spins structures hundreds of yards from their original location.
“Community leaders I spoke to don’t know how many people were buried” in Balaroa, Husni said. “Some say maybe 50% of the people.”
Husni described meeting survivors who said a funeral had been taking place at the bottom of a hill as the earthquake hit. In the ensuing landslide, an unknown number of mourners were buried, he said.
“The quake sent soil from the top down,” Husni said. “They are not sure how many are buried.”
Special correspondent Roughneen reported from Jakarta and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.
Shashank Bengali is South Asia correspondent for The Times. Follow him on Twitter at @SBengali
12 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional quotes and details.
This article was originally published at 7 a.m.
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