Power restored to Indonesian quake city, but fate of thousands unknown
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PALU - Electricity was restored
and some shops reopened in Indonesia's quake and tsunami
stricken city of Palu on Thursday, but the fate of many
thousands of people in outlying districts was unknown nearly a
week after the disaster struck.
The small city of 370,000 people has been the focus of the
aid effort launched after last Friday's 7.5 magnitude earthquake
and tsunami on the west coast of Sulawesi island.
International help in searching for survivors has gathered
pace, but communities in more remote areas have been cut off by
broken roads, landslides and crippled communications, leaving
people increasingly desperate for basic needs as aid has only
just begun to trickle through.
By Thursday, the official death toll stood at 1,424, but it
will certainly rise as bodies were still being recovered in
Palu, where most of the dead have been counted. Figures for more
remote areas were only trickling in, if at all.
"There are so many challenges with this disaster, it's never
been so bad," said Frida Sinta, an aid volunteer trying to get
basic food and other supplies out to fellow residents of Palu.
The city, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Indonesia's
capital, Jakarta, has teetered close to chaos this week, with
outbreaks of looting, but a recovery was evident as some shops
and banks reopened and a major mobile phone network was back up.
Orderly queues formed at petrol stations after the arrival
of fuel shipments and late in the day, traffic lights and
televisions flickered back to life as the power came back on.
The improvements are helping with the aid effort.
"We carry whatever we can by car or motorbike within the
city wherever we can. But not yet to the most inaccessible
places," Sinta said.
Altogether, the badly affected areas in the disaster zone
include some 1.4 million people.
Rescue workers are pushing into outlying districts, where
residents say they have been scavenging for coconuts, bananas
Villagers rushed a Red Cross helicopter that landed near the
town of Donggala, northwest of Palu, to distribute bread and
other food, a Reuters photographer said.
National disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo
Nugroho told a briefing the main roads to the south, west and
east of Palu had been opened.
But there has been scant information about conditions on the
road to the north, along the coast towards the epicentre of the
quake, 78 km (50 miles) from Palu.
"There's no data," said Abdul Haris of the national search
and rescue agency, when asked about the string of small
settlements that line the road, which passes some sandy beaches
that attract a trickle of tourists.
"GOD DOES NOT STRIKE TWICE"
While the power is back in Palu, it will take much longer
for people to pick up the pieces of their lives.
"We will start again here ourselves because God does not
strike twice," said Eko Joko who was building a new house, a
wooden A-frame home, in the midst of a wasteland of concrete,
mangled sheets of iron and uprooted trees near Palu's beach.
In Palu's Balaroa district, badly hit by deadly soil
liquefaction, Asril Abdul Hamid, 35, was poking through the
wreckage of his home. He salvaged a few mementoes including a
"My immediate family is safe, thank God, but my cousin was
killed,” he told Reuters, adding that his family had got food
and water in the past few days.
Not far away, rescuers were using small flags to mark the
location of bodies found in the debris.
"We discovered eight bodies with the rescue team but we
haven't been able to bring them out because we don't have the
right equipment," said district police chief Andi Samsudin
The body of a South Korean man, who had been in Palu for a
sports event, was also found in the ruins of a hotel where
dozens of people were killed.
Just to the east of Palu, the 500-tonne KM Sabuk Nusantara
39, lies, high and dry in a dock-side settlement, where the
tsunami picked it up and dumped it. No one on board was hurt.
Engineer Charles Marlan, waiting with fellow crewmen on
board the marooned ship for its owners to decide what to do,
said he was thankful his ship had not killed anyone on land, as
far as they knew.
"What is important is we are alive and for that we should be
grateful," he said.
Straddling the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire,
Indonesia has long been vulnerable to quakes and tsunamis.
In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami
across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13
countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.