Scale of Indonesia disaster still unclear as survivors flee quake zone
Share this article:
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
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.