A man takes a photo of a car lifted into the air with his mobile phone following a massive earthquake and tsunami at Talise beach in Palu, Central Sulawesi. Picture: Tatan Syuflana/AP
A man takes a photo of a car lifted into the air with his mobile phone following a massive earthquake and tsunami at Talise beach in Palu, Central Sulawesi. Picture: Tatan Syuflana/AP

Scale of Indonesia disaster still unclear as survivors flee quake zone

By Fathin Ungku And Kanupriya Kapoor Time of article published Oct 1, 2018

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Palu, Indonesia - Indonesia scrambled on

Monday to get help into quake-hit Sulawesi island as survivors

streamed away from their ruined homes and accounts of

devastation filtered out of remote areas, including the death of

34 children at a Christian camp.

The confirmed death toll of 844 was certain to rise as

rescuers reached devastated outlying communities hit on Friday

by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami waves as

high as six metres (20 feet).

Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble

of several hotels and a mall in the small city of Palu, 1 500 km

(930 miles) northeast of Jakarta. Hundreds more were feared

buried in landslides that engulfed villages.

Of particular concern is Donggala, a region of 300 000

people north of Palu and close to the epicentre of the quake,

and two other districts, where communication had been cut off.

The four districts have a combined population of about 1.4


One woman was recovered alive from ruins overnight in the

Palu neighbourhood of Balaroa, where about 1 700 houses were

swallowed up when the earthquake caused soil to liquefy, the

national rescue agency said.

"We don't know how many victims could be buried there, it's

estimated hundreds," said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for

the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

All but 23 of the confirmed deaths were in Palu, a city of

about 380 000 people, where workers were preparing a mass grave

to bury the dead as soon as they were identified.

Nearly three days after the quake, the extent of the

disaster was not known with authorities bracing for the toll to

climb - perhaps into the thousands - as connections with remote

areas up and down the coast are restored.

Aid worker Lian Gogali, who had reached Donggala district by

motorcycle, said hundreds of people facing a lack of food and

medicine were trying to get out, but evacuation teams had yet to

arrive and roads were blocked.

"It's devastating," she told Reuters by text.

Indonesian Red Cross spokeswoman Aulia Arriani said a church

in an area of Sigi, south of Palu, had been engulfed in mud and

debris. Officials said the area suffered liquefaction, when the

shock of the quake temporarily destabilises the soil.

"My volunteers found 34 bodies ... children who had been

doing a bible camp," Arriani said.

Sulawesi is one of the earthquake-prone archipelago nation's

five main islands and sits astride fault lines. Numerous

aftershocks have rattled the region.

Pictures showed expanses of splintered wood, washed-up cars

and trees mashed together, with rooftops and roads split

asunder. Access to many areas is being hampered by damaged

roads, landslides and collapsed bridges.


A Reuters witness said queues at petrol stations on the

approaches to Palu stretched for miles. Convoys carrying food,

water and fuel awaited police escorts to prevent pilfering

before heading towards the city while residents streamed out.

The state energy company said it was airlifting in 4 000

litres of fuel, while Indonesia's logistics agency said it would

send hundreds of tonnes of rice. The government has allocated

560 billion rupiah ($37.58 million) for the recovery.

The government has played down worries about looting though

witnesses have seen incidents.

Chief security minister Wiranto said more than 2 800 troops

had been deployed and plans were in place to send in a further

2,000 police.

The government would accept offers of help from 18 countries

and it had also commandeered 20 excavators from mines and

plantations to help with a shortage of equipment to dig through

wreckage and clear blocked roads, he said.

Nearly 60 000 people were displaced, many terrified by

powerful aftershocks, and they needed tents, water and sanitary

facilities, while the power utility was working to restore

electricity, he said.

Commercial flights have yet to resume but military aircraft

were taking people out of Palu. About 3,000 people thronged the

small airport hoping to get out and officers struggled to keep


"I'd get a plane anywhere. I've been waiting for two days.

Haven't eaten, barely had a drink," said 44-year-old food vendor


Indonesia is all too familiar with earthquakes and tsunamis.

A quake in 2004 triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that

killed 226 000 people in 13 countries, including more than

120 000 in Indonesia.

Palu sits astride the Palu-Koro fault, which runs

north-south along the edge of Palu Bay. Geologists estimate

segments of the fault have a slip that is among the highest in

Indonesia, at 4 cm (1.6 inches) a year, exposing the area to a

higher risk of quakes.

Questions are sure to be asked why warning systems set up

after the 2004 disaster appear to have failed.

Disaster agency spokesman Nugroho told reporters on Sunday

none of Indonesia's tsunami buoys, one device used to detect

waves, had been operating since 2012. He blamed a lack of funds.

The meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG issued a

tsunami warning after the quake but lifted it 34 minutes later,

drawing criticism it had been too hasty.

However, officials estimated the waves had hit while the

warning was in force.


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