Indonesia scrambles to help quake-hit island as death toll climbs
PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesian authorities scrambled to get food, aid and equipment into quake-hit Sulawesi island on Monday as the death toll from the disaster soared close to 1,000 and looked certain to rise as rescuers struggled to reach devastated outlying communities.
Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of several hotels and a mall in the city of Palu, which was hit by waves as high as six meters (20 feet) following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday.
Hundreds more were feared buried in landslides that engulfed villages in surrounding areas.
“Grieve for the people of Central Sulawesi, we all grieve together,” President Joko Widodo said on Twitter late on Sunday.
Most of the confirmed deaths were in Palu itself and authorities were bracing for the toll to climb as connections with outlying areas are restored.
Of particular concern is Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and close to the epicenter of the quake, and two other districts, which have been cut off from communications since Friday.
“We haven’t received reports from the three other areas. Communication is still down, power is still out. We don’t know for sure what is the impact,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, told a news conference.
Along with Palu, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta, these districts have a combined population of about 1.4 million.
Five foreigners – three French, one South Korean and one Malaysian – were among the missing, Nugroho said.
Authorities were preparing a mass grave in Palu to bury the dead as soon as possible after they were identified to prevent the spread of disease, he said on Twitter on Monday.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the death toll could rise into the thousands.
President Widodo visited a housing complex, flattened when the quake liquefied the soil it stood on, on Sunday and called for patience.
“I know there are many problems that need to be solved in a short time, including communications,” he said.
The ruins would be rebuilt, Widodo said, as aftershocks continued to rattle the region.
Footage of the ruined city showed a crumpled mess of houses, cars and trees mashed together by the quake, with rooftops and roads split and left at all angles.
“There are estimated to be many victims in this area. Evacuation is difficult because many collapsed houses are buried in soil,” Nugroho said on Sunday evening.
Internal Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, asked on social media about reports of looting, said he had ordered authorities to help people get food and drink and businesses would be compensated. One video posted on YouTube showed people grabbing boxes of supplies from a truck.
Television pictures showed scores of residents shouting “we’re hungry, we need food” as soldiers distributed rations from a truck in one neighborhood, while footage from elsewhere showed people making off with clothes and other items from a wrecked mall.
State logistics agency chief Budi Waseso said it was preparing to send hundreds of tonnes of government rice stocks to areas in Central Sulawesi affected by the disaster.
Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the government had allocated 560 billion rupiah ($37.58 million) for disaster recovery, media reported.