Palu - The South African delegation of search and rescue volunteers from the Gift of the Givers has arrived safely in the quake and tsunami-hit city of Palu.
The team arrived just before 2pm local time after being delayed by about 2 hours at the Makassar Airport. This as the Indonesian government appeared to be restricting access to the city for people who were not there as part of relief efforts.
One official said the delay was due to a lack of parking space for planes at the Bandar Udaka Mutiara Sis Jufri airport in Palu, while another pointed at a government crackdown.
Raden Terry Subagja, an official at the Foreign Affairs ministry, said the government was containing foreign personnel who were not qualified to lend support from landing in Palu.
“We have a lot of people that are coming in, but the government is now trying to request all foreign personnel that are not qualified to work in a disaster area, not to get into Palu for the time being,” he said.
The team was warmly received by some military personnel, local firemen and local police, who lined up to take pictures with the volunteers.
There was a strong military presence at the airport.
The destruction around the city was markedly visible, with many collapsed buildings, homes and a scenic temple battered.
Young men in their scooters still buzz about around the city, but the broken roads and the hundreds of tents that surround the airport were a reminder of the destruction the quake and tsunami had on the city.
The Gift of the Givers said they would send a second team if there was a genuine need to.
The team currently is made up of 25 search and rescue volunteers.
Ahmed Bahm, team leader for the Indonesian mission, said they would meet with government officials at the disaster co-ordination centre on Sunday afternoon.
"No walking around allowed," he told the volunteers.
"Once we have a green light, we have to work under the laws and cooperate into their system," he said.
Bahm had said on Saturday night that there was always bound to be logistical challenges and said a second group of volunteers was on standby back in South Africa.
“We have got the second group on standby. We have said once we reach there (Palu) we will be able to make a call, we don't want a team to come here and do nothing or sit here in Jakarta for 3 to 4 days,” he said.
More than 1500 people have been killed by the earthquake and tsunami in Palu. Thousands more were displaced and thousands of bodies are yet to be recovered.
Indonesia has more than 17 000 islands and moving goods to the disaster-stricken island has been a challenge, with airports frequently closed.
* Cash contributions to assist the victims of the disaster can be deposited into Gift of the Givers, Standard Bank, Pietermaritzburg, Account No. 052278611, Branch Code 057525. Please send deposit slip to [email protected] for acknowledgement. You can also donate online here .
** Independent Media journalist Sihle Mlambo is in Indonesia with the Gift of the Givers team.