Indonesian men dig through sodden piles of food at an abandoned warehouse in an earthquake and tsunami-affected area in Palu, central Sulawesi, Indonesia, yesterday. AP
Hungry survivors of an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia said yesterday they were scavenging for food as President Joko Widodo made a second visit to the area to ramp up aid efforts five days after disaster struck.

The official death toll from the 7.5 magnitude quake that hit the west coast of Sulawesi island last Friday rose to 1407. But officials fear the toll could soar, as most of the confirmed dead have come from Palu, 1500km north-east of Jakarta, and losses in remote areas remain unknown as communications are down, and bridges and roads have been destroyed.

National disaster mitigation agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said most of the aid effort had been concentrated in Palu, where electricity supply has yet to be restored. But rescue workers had begun to reach more remote areas in a disaster zone that encompasses 1.4 million people.

Johnny Lim, reached by phone in Donggala town, said he was surviving on coconuts. “It’s a zombie town. Everything’s destroyed. Nothing’s left,” he said over a bad line.“We’re on our last legs. There’s no food, no water.”

In another part of Donggala district, Ahmad Derajat said survivors were scavenging for food in fields.

“What we’re relying on right now is food from farms and sharing whatever we find, like sweet potatoes or bananas,” said Derajat, whose house was swept away. “Why aren’t they dropping aid by helicopter?” he asked.

Aid worker Lian Gogali described a perilous situation in Donggala. “Everyone is desperate. There’s no food, water or gasoline. The government is missing,” Gogali said, adding that her aid group had only been able to send in a trickle of rations by motorbike.

Underlining a growing sense of urgency, Widodo made his second visit to the disaster zone, putting on an orange hard hat to talk to rescue workers at a hotel in Palu.

“What I’ve observed after returning is heavy equipment has arrived, logistics have started to arrive, although it’s not at maximum yet, fuel has partly arrived,” Widodo told reporters.

Yahdi Basma, a leader from a village south of Palu hoping to get his family on a cargo plane out, said Widodo had no idea of the extent of the suffering. “The president is not hearing about the remote areas .There are hundreds of people still buried under the mud in my village. There is no aid whatsoever, which is why we’re leaving.” Reuters