Indonesian quake survivors scavenging in ‘zombie town’; president ramps up aid

UNTV News   •   October 3, 2018   •   1045

Debris and a ship are seen after the earthquake and tsunami hit an area in Donggala, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Hungry survivors of an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia said on Wednesday they were scavenging for food in farms 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 1,407, many killed by tsunami waves it triggered.

(GRAPHIC: Catastrophe in Sulawesi – tmsnrt.rs/2OqQlUo)

But officials fear the toll could soar, as most of the confirmed dead have come from Palu, a small city 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta, and losses in remote areas remain unknown, as communications are down, and bridges and roads have been destroyed or blocked by landslides.

National disaster mitigation agency spokesman 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 have begun to reach more remote areas in a disaster zone that encompasses 1.4 million people.

Johnny Lim, a restaurant owner reached by telephone in Donggala town, said he was surviving on coconuts.

“It’s a zombie town. Everything’s destroyed. Nothing’s left,” Lim said over a crackling line.

“We’re on our last legs. There’s no food, no water.”

In another part of Donggala district, which has a population of 300,000 people, Ahmad Derajat, said survivors were scavenging for food in fields and orchards.

“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 by the tsunami leaving a jumble of furniture, collapsed tin roofs and wooden beams.

“Why aren’t they dropping aid by helicopter?” he asked.

Aid worker Lian Gogali described a perilous situation in Donggala, which includes a string of cut-off, small towns along a coast road north of Palu close to the quake’s epicenter.

“Everyone is desperate for food and water. 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, President Widodo made his second visit to the disaster zone, putting on an orange hard hat to talk to rescue workers at a collapsed hotel in Palu.

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

‘PRESIDENT NOT HEARING’

Widodo, who will seek re-election next year, called on Tuesday for reinforcements in the search for victims, saying everyone had to be found. He repeated that on Wednesday, after inspecting what he called an “evacuation” effort at the Hotel Roa Roa, where he said some 30 people lay buried in the ruins.

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, only about the tsunami and about Palu,” he said.

“There are hundreds of people still buried under the mud in my village … There is no aid whatsoever which is why we’re leaving.”

At least seven cargo planes arrived at Palu airport earlier on Wednesday carrying tonnes of aid, some bedecked in the red and white national colors and stamped with the presidential office seal declaring: “Assistance from the President of Republic of Indonesia”.

The quake brought down hotels, shopping malls and thousands of houses in Palu, while tsunami waves as high as six meters (20 feet) scoured its beachfront shortly afterwards.

About 1,700 houses in one neighborhood were swallowed up by ground liquefaction, which happens when soil shaken by an earthquake behaves like a liquid, and hundreds of people are believed to have perished, the disaster agency said.

Indonesian Red Cross disaster responders said the village of Petobo, just south of Palu, which was home to almost 500 people, had been “wiped off the map”.

“They are finding devastation and tragedy everywhere,” Iris van Deinse, of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement.

Nearby, rescue workers, some using an excavator, were searching for 52 children missing since liquefaction destroyed their bible study camp. Bodies of 35 of the children have been found.

Aircraft, tents, water treatment facilities and generators were the main needs for survivors including more than 70,000 displaced people, according to the national disaster mitigation agency spokesman.

Sitting on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to quakes 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.

Adding to Sulawesi’s woes, the Soputan volcano in the north of the island, 600 km (375 miles) northeast of Palu, erupted on Wednesday but there were no reports of casualties or damage.

Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Maikel Jefriando, Tabita Diela, Gayatri Suroyo, Fransiska Nangoy, Fanny Potkin, Ed Davies and Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA, Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in GENEVA and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Indonesia mourns as death toll from quake jumps to 832

UNTV News   •   October 1, 2018

Search and rescue workers evacuate an earthquake and tsunami survivor trapped in a collapsed restaurant, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia September 30, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Muhammad Adimaja/ via REUTERS

 

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – The toll from an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia soared to 832 confirmed dead on Sunday, with authorities fearing the numbers will climb as rescuers grappled to get aid to outlying communities cut off from communications and help.

Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of several hotels and a mall in the city of Palu, on Sulawesi island, which was hit by waves as high as six meters (20 feet) following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday.

A woman was pulled alive from the debris of the city’s Roa Roa Hotel, where up to 60 people were believed trapped. Hundreds of people gathered at the wrecked eight-storey Tatura Mall searching for loved ones.

“Grieve for the people of Central Sulawesi, we all grieve together,” President Joko Widodo tweeted late on Sunday.

Most of the confirmed deaths were in Palu itself, and authorities are bracing for the toll to climb as connections with outlying areas are restored.

Of particular concern is Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and close to the epicenter of the quake, and two other districts, which has been cut off from communications since Friday.

(For a map of Sulawesi, click tmsnrt.rs/2OYa4YD)

“We haven’t received reports from the three other areas. Communication is still down, power is still out. We don’t know for sure what is the impact,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, told a news conference.

Along with Palu, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta, these districts have a combined population of about 1.4 million.

A video of the outskirts of Donggala shot on Sunday afternoon by the Indonesian Red Cross showed scenes of devastation, with houses flattened into piles of rubble and broken furniture.

Smaller aftershocks from Friday’s quake continued to rumble through the area.

Social worker Lian Gogali tweeted from the area that several villages on the west coast of Sulawesi were in desperate need of food, medicine and shelter and that road access was still limited.

PLEDGE TO REBUILD
Five foreigners – three French, one South Korean and one Malaysian – were among the missing, Nugroho said. The 832 dead included people crushed in the quake and swept away by the tsunami.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the death toll could rise into the thousands.

Earlier President Widodo visited a housing complex flattened when the quake liquefied the soil it stood on, and called for patience.

“I know there are many problems that need to be solved in a short time, including communications,” he said. The ruins would be rebuilt, he said, as aftershocks rattled the region 48 hours after the quake.

Footage of the ruined city show a crumpled mess of houses, cars and trees mashed together by the quake, with rooftops and roads split and left at all angles.

“There are estimated to be many victims in this area. Evacuation is difficult because many collapsed houses are buried in soil,” the National Disaster Mitigation Agency’s Nugroho said on Sunday evening.

Internal Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, asked about reports of looting on social media, said he had ordered authorities to help people get food and drink and businesses would be compensated. One video posted on YouTube showed people grabbing boxes of supplies from a truck.

Television pictures showed scores of residents shouting “we’re hungry, we need food” as soldiers distributed rations from a truck in one neighborhood, while footage from elsewhere showed people making off with clothes and other items from a wrecked mall.

State logistics agency chief Budi Waseso said it was preparing to send hundreds of tonnes of government rice stocks to Central Sulawesi areas affected by the disaster.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the government had allocated 560 billion rupiah ($37.58 million) for disaster recovery, media reported.

QUESTIONS ABOUT WARNINGS
Indonesia, which sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, is all too familiar with deadly earthquakes and tsunamis. In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean, killing 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Questions are sure to be asked why warning systems set up after that disaster appear to have failed on Friday. Nugroho, bemoaning a fall in funding, said no tsunami buoys, one type of instrument used to detect the waves, in Indonesia had been operating since 2012.

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. But officials estimated the waves had hit while the warning was in force.

Hundreds of people had gathered for a festival on Palu’s beach when the water surged. A disaster official said the tsunami traveled across the sea at speeds of 800 kph (500 mph).

Video on social media showed water bearing whirls of debris rushing in as people shouted in alarm and scattered.

Palu is at the head of a bay, about 10 km long and 2 km wide, which had “amplified” the wave as it was funneled toward the city, a geophysics agency official said.

The BMKG said its closest tidal gauge sensor, about 200 km (125 miles) from Palu, had only recorded an “insignificant” 6 cm (2.5 inches) wave.

Palu’s airport was damaged in the quake, but had reopened for limited commercial flights, authorities said.

Neighbors including Australia, Thailand and China offered help and Pope Francis, speaking to thousands in St. Peter’s Square, said he was praying for the victims.

The European Union has announced 1.5 million euros ($1.74 million) in immediate aid.

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population but also significant pockets of Christians, including on Sulawesi, which is one of the archipelago nation’s five main islands.

Reporting by Reuters stringer in PALU, Fergus Jensen, Fanny Potkin, Tabita Diela, Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Gayatri Suroyo and Fransiska Nangoy in JAKARTA, Kanupriya Kapoor in MAMUJU. Steve Scherer in ROME, Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in BANGKOK; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Michael Perry, Alex Richardson, Neil Fullick and Adrian Croft

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