Vast mass grave for dead in Su­lawesi

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE -

IN­DONE­SIAN vol­un­teers be­gan bury­ing bod­ies in a vast mass grave on Mon­day, vic­tims of a quake-tsunami that dev­as­tated swaths of Su­lawesi, as the UN warned that some 191,000 peo­ple were in ur­gent need of hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance.

In­done­sia is no stranger to nat­u­ral calami­ties and Jakarta had been keen to show it could deal with a catas­tro­phe that has killed at least 844 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est of­fi­cial count, and dis­placed some 59,000 more.

But four days on, some re­mote ar­eas are only now be­ing con­tacted, medicines are run­ning out and res­cuers are strug­gling with a short­age of heavy equip­ment as they try to reach des­per­ate vic­tims call­ing out from the ru­ins of col­lapsed build­ings.

I n re­sponse, Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo opened t he door to t he dozens of in­tern a t i o n a l a i d a g e n c i e s and NGOs who are lined up t o pr o v i de l i f e - s a v i n g as­sista nce.

Of­fi­cials fear the toll will rise steeply in the com­ing days and are pre­par­ing for the worst, declar­ing a 14-day state of emer­gency.

The United Na­tions Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu ma n i t a r i a n A f f a i r s warned that there were some 46,000 chil­dren and 14,000 el­derly In­done­sians among those in dire need

– many in ar­eas that aren’t the fo­cus of gov­ern­ment re­cov­ery ef­forts.

At Poboya – in the hills above the dev­as­tated sea­side city of Palu – vol­un­teers be­gan to fill a vast grave with the dead, with in­struc­tions to pre­pare for 1,300 vic­tims to be laid to rest.

Au­thor­i­ties are des­per­ate to stave off any dis­ease out­break caused by de­com­pos­ing bod­ies, some now are rid­dled with mag­gots.

Three trucks ar­rived stacked with corpses wrapped in or­ange, yel­low and black bags, an AFP re­porter on the scene saw. One-by-one they were dragged into the grave as ex­ca­va­tors poured soil on top.

In Balaroa, a Palu sub­urb once home to a hous­ing com­plex, the scale of the dam­age was ob­vi­ous. A waste­land of flat­tened trees, shards of con­crete, twisted metal roof­ing, door frames and man­gled fur­ni­ture stretched out into the dis­tance.

Dazed groups of peo­ple am­bled over the wreck­age, un­clear where or how to start dig­ging. Among them were three men look­ing for their younger brother.

Res­cuers are rac­ing against the clock and a lack of equip­ment to save those still trapped in the rub­ble, with up to 60 peo­ple feared to be un­der­neath one Palu ho­tel alone.

Two sur­vivors have been plucked from the 80-room Ho­tel Roa-Roa, In­done­sia’s search and res­cue agency said, and there could still be more alive.

Des­per­ate sur­vivors turned to loot­ing shops for ba­sics like food, wa­ter and fuel as po­lice looked on, un­will­ing or un­able to in­ter­vene.

“There has been no aid, we need to eat. We don’t have any other choice, we must get food,” one man in Palu told AFP as he filled a bas­ket with goods from a nearby store.

Oth­ers have cen­tred their search for loved ones around open-air morgues, where the dead lay in the bak­ing sun – wait­ing to be claimed, wait­ing to be named.

In other places, the pic­ture was even less clear.

In­done­sia’s Metro TV broad- cast aerial footage from the south­ern sub­urb of Pe­tobo, w h e r e t h e d e v a s t a t i o n ap­peared ex­ten­sive.

Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates there could be up to 700 peo­ple killed there alone, with many of the 1,747 homes de­stroyed.

“We don’t know how many ca­su­al­ties there are at the com­plex,” said Su­topo Purwo Nu­groho, the na­tional dis­as­ter agency spokesman.

Ports, bridges shat­tered

Yenni Suryani, of Catholic Re­lief Ser­vices, said dev­as­tated in­fra­struc­ture was ham­per­ing res­cue ef­forts.

“Hu­man­i­tar­ian groups are strug­gling to get peo­ple into af­fected ar­eas,” she said. The main air­port at Palu was dam­aged, land­slides had cut off key roads while “power is out al­most ev­ery­where”, she added.

The lo­cal air­port has been cleared to re­ceive hu­man­i­tar­ian and com­mer­cial flights, but so far the land­ing slots have been taken up by In­done­sia’s pow­er­ful milit ar y, which is stag­ing its own as­sis­tance ef­forts.

Satel­lite im­agery pro­vided by re­gional re­lief teams showed se­vere dam­age at some of the area’s ma­jor ports, with large ships tossed on land, quays and bridges trashed and ship­ping con­tain­ers thrown around.

A dou­ble-arched yel­low bridge had col­lapsed, its ribs twisted as cars bobbed in the wa­ter be­low.

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