Ottawa Citizen



PASANGKAYU, INDONESIA• They knew they had to go.

The city of Palu — battered by last week’s earthquake and tsunami — was now a place of fear: looters, lawlessnes­s and a slow and difficult aid effort that has made food, fuel and water hard to come by.

Iffa Elia, her parents and younger sister joined the exodus Monday heading to the airport. They were looking for any flight, anywhere. Yet only 24-year-old Iffa made it out of Palu this time.

The rest of the family must decide whether to try again or to make do in what is left of their home.

The desperatio­n and dashed hopes of those seeking to flee Palu are palpable as Indonesia struggles to cope with a crisis whose full extent is not yet clear.

More than 1,230 people have been confirmed dead in Friday’s 7.5-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami it unleashed on Palu and the surroundin­g area on the island of Sulawesi, in the centre of the Indonesian archipelag­o.

Some survivors pack the airfield hoping to escape the misery. Others have fended for themselves as best they can.

More than 61,000 have fled their destroyed homes and are growing more desperate — setting up makeshift tents, eating fruit from the few trees that still stand and scouring for water — as aid remains scarce.

Meanwhile, looters, bandits and armed thugs grow increasing­ly bold as the city sinks deeper into a survivalis­tic mode.

Widespread fuel shortages have been reported by aid agencies across the region as far south as Mamuju, a nine-hour drive from Palu. Cars there were parked at gas stations, left stranded by dry pumps or headed away from the disaster area, packed with belongings.

Between Donggala and Palu, the “road is lined with people begging for food and water,” said Fatwa Fadillah, program manager for disaster risk reduction at Catholic Relief Services.

“They are thirsty and afraid, because they don’t know when they will get reliable access to water.”

On the road to Palu, humanitari­an organizati­ons were stopping to rearrange their vehicles to hide water and fuel, amid reports of robberies along the way. Fuel trucks have been travelling to the region only after nightfall to prevent being seen and mobbed, and are guarded by police convoys.

The death toll is likely to rise even further, as victims who have been buried by mud in a nightmaris­h phenomenon called liquefacti­on — where sand and silt take on the characteri­stics of liquid — have not fully been tallied.

“We don’t know how many people have been buried in the mud because of liquefacti­on and land sinking,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

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