Des­per­a­tion grows as death toll topped 1,400 in Su­lawesi

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Kik Sire­gar

THE death toll in In­done­sia’s twin quake-tsunami dis­as­ter passed 1,400 on Wed­nes­day, with time run­ning out to res­cue sur­vivors. Na­tional dis­as­ter agency spokesman Su­topo Purwo Nu­groho said the num­ber of dead had risen to 1,407 across four ar­eas around the rav­aged sea­side city of Palu, and 519 bod­ies had been al­ready buried.

Au­thor­i­ties set a ten­ta­tive dead­line of Fri­day to find any­one still trapped un­der rub­ble, at which point the chances of find­ing sur­vivors will dwin­dle to al­most zero.

Govern­ment res­cue work­ers are fo­cus­ing on half a dozen key sites around the city.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN’s hu­man­i­tar­ian of­fice al­most 200,000 peo­ple need ur­gent help, among them tens of thou­sands of chil­dren, with an es­ti­mated 66,000 homes de­stroyed or dam­aged by the 7.5 mag­ni­tude quake and the tsunami it spawned.

De­spite the In­done­sian govern­ment urg­ing for­eign res­cue teams to “stand down” be­cause the cri­sis was in hand, res­i­dents in hard-hit, re­mote vil­lages like Wani in Dong­gala prov­ince say lit­tle help has ar­rived and hope is fad­ing.

“In the area to the south, be­cause there hasn’t been an evac­u­a­tion we don’t know if there are bod­ies. It’s pos­si­ble there are more,” Mo­ham­mad Thahir told the me­dia.

‘Slow pace’

In Geneva, the UN ex­pressed frus­tra­tion at the slow pace of the re­sponse.

“There are still large ar­eas of what might be the worst-af­fected ar­eas that haven’t been prop­erly reached, but the teams are push­ing, they are do­ing what they can,” Jens Laerke, from the UN’s hu­man­i­tar­ian of­fice, told re­porters late Tues­day.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has es­ti­mated that across Dong­gala, some 310,000 peo­ple have been af­fected by the dis­as­ter.

Signs of des­per­a­tion are grow­ing, with po­lice of­fi­cers forced to fire warn­ing shots and tear­gas on Tues­day to ward off peo­ple ran­sack­ing shops.

Six of the In­done­sian so­cial af­fairs min­istry’s trucks laden with sup­plies were re­port­edly looted en route to Palu.

In the main route north out of the city, an AFP jour­nal­ist saw youths block­ing the road and ask for “do­na­tions” to clear the way.

Wi­dodo, who faces re-elec­tion next year, in­sisted the mil­i­tary and the po­lice were in full con­trol. “There is no such thing as loot­ing,” he said on a visit to Palu.

‘Deadly dis­eases’

The In­done­sia-based Asean Co­or­di­nat­ing Cen­tre for Hu­man­i­tar­ian As­sis­tance said that more body bags were “ur­gently” needed as fears grow t hat de­com­pos­ing corpses could prov ide a breed­ing ground for deadly dis­eases.

Res­cue ef­forts have been ham­pered by a lack of heavy ma­chin­ery, sev­ered trans­port links and the scale of the dam­age.

In yet an­other re­minder of In­done­sia’s v ul­ner­a­bilit y to natura l dis­as­ters, the Sop­utan Vol­cano i n Su­lawesi erupted Wed­nes­day, spew­ing vol­canic ash up to 4,000 me­tres above t he crater.

The state dis­as­ter agency warned peo­ple to stay at least four kilo­me­tres (two and a half miles) away, but said there was no need to evac­u­ate for the time be­ing.

In­ter­na­tional aid of­fers have picked up since Jakarta’s be­lated re­quest for help, with the UN’s Cen­tral Emer­gency Re­sponse Fund an­nounc­ing late Tues­day that it was re­leas­ing $15 mil­lion in aid.

On Wed­nes­day, Aus­tralia said it was send­ing a med­i­cal team to the dis­as­ter zone and pro­vid­ing an ad­di­tional $5 mil­lion in aid.

With power re­turn­ing to parts of Palu late Tues­day and phone net­works back up and run­ning, there were some signs of things get­ting back to nor­mal.

But for most, daily life has changed be­yond all recog­ni­tion.

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP

Quake sur­vivors make their way past a washed out pas­sen­ger ferry in Wani, In­done­sia’s Cen­tral Su­lawesi, on Wed­nes­day af­ter an earth­quake and tsunami hit the area on Fri­day.

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