Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.
PALU, Indonesia: Indonesia scrambled on Monday to get help into quake-hit Sulawesi island as survivors streamed away from their ruined homes and accounts of devastation filtered out of remote areas, including the death of 34 children at a Christian camp.
The confirmed death toll of 844 was certain to rise as rescuers reached devastated outlying communities hit on Friday by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami waves as high as six meters (20 feet).
Indonesian volunteers began burying bodies in a vast mass grave on Monday, victims of a quake-tsunami that devastated swathes of Sulawesi, as the UN warned that some 191,000 people were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of several hotels and a mall in the small city of Palu, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta. Hundreds more were feared buried in landslides that engulfed villages.
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.
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, where communication had been cut off.
The four districts have a combined population of about 1.4 million.
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.
In response, President Joko Widodo opened the door to the dozens of international aid agencies and NGOs who are lined up to provide life-saving assistance.
One woman was recovered alive from ruins overnight in the Palu neighborhood of Balaroa, where about 1,700 houses were swallowed up when the earthquake caused soil to liquefy, the national rescue agency said.
“We don’t know how many victims could be buried there, it’s estimated hundreds,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
All but 23 of the confirmed deaths were in Palu, a city of about 380,000 people, where workers were preparing a mass grave to bury the dead as soon as they were identified.
Nearly three days after the quake, the extent of the disaster was not known with authorities bracing for the toll to climb – perhaps into the thousands – as connections with remote areas up and down the coast are restored.
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 Humanitarian Affairs 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 of which are riddled with maggots.
Three trucks arrived stacked with corpses wrapped in orange, yellow and black bags, an AFP reporter said. One-by-one they were dragged into the grave as excavators poured soil on top.
Aid worker Lian Gogali, who had reached Donggala district by motorcycle, said hundreds of people facing a lack of food and medicine were trying to get out, but evacuation teams had yet to arrive and roads were blocked.
“It’s devastating,” she told Reuters by text.
Indonesian Red Cross spokeswoman Aulia Arriani said a church in an area of Sigi, south of Palu, had been engulfed in mud and debris. Officials said the area suffered liquefaction, when the shock of the quake temporarily destabilizes the soil.
“My volunteers found 34 bodies … children who had been doing a bible camp,” Arriani said.
Sulawesi is one of the earthquake-prone archipelago nation’s five main islands and sits astride fault lines. Numerous aftershocks have rattled the region.
Pictures showed expanses of splintered wood, washed-up cars and trees mashed together, with rooftops and roads split asunder. Access to many areas is being hampered by damaged roads, landslides and collapsed bridges.
A Reuters witness said queues at petrol stations on the approaches to Palu stretched for miles. Convoys carrying food, water and fuel awaited police escorts to prevent pilfering before heading toward the city while residents streamed out.
The state energy company said it was airlifting in 4,000 liters of fuel, while Indonesia’s logistics agency said it would send hundreds of tonnes of rice. The government has allocated 560 billion rupiah ($37.58 million) for the recovery.
The government has played down worries about looting though witnesses have seen incidents.
Chief security minister Wiranto said more than 2,800 troops had been deployed and plans were in place to send in a further 2,000 police.
The government would accept offers of help from 18 countries and it had also commandeered 20 excavators from mines and plantations to help with a shortage of equipment to dig through wreckage and clear blocked roads, he said.
Nearly 60,000 people were displaced, many terrified by powerful aftershocks, and they needed tents, water and sanitary facilities, while the power utility was working to restore electricity, he said.
Commercial flights have yet to resume but military aircraft were taking people out of Palu. About 3,000 people thronged the small airport hoping to get out and officers struggled to keep order.
“I’d get a plane anywhere. I’ve been waiting for two days. Haven’t eaten, barely had a drink,” said 44-year-old food vendor Wiwid.
Indonesia is all too familiar with earthquakes 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.
Palu sits astride the Palu-Koro fault, which runs north-south along the edge of Palu Bay. Geologists estimate segments of the fault have a slip that is among the highest in Indonesia, at 4 cm (1.6 inches) a year, exposing the area to a higher risk of quakes.
Questions are sure to be asked why warning systems set up after the 2004 disaster appear to have failed.
Disaster agency spokesman Nugroho told reporters on Sunday none of Indonesia’s tsunami buoys, one device used to detect waves, had been operating since 2012. He blamed a lack of funds.
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.
However, officials estimated the waves had hit while the warning was in force.
In Balaroa, a Palu suburb once the 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 loot shops for basics like food, water, and fuel as police looked on, unwilling or unable to intervene.
“The government, the President have come here, but what we really need is food and water.” Burhanuddin Aid Masse, 48, told AFP.
Meanwhile, government officials said some 1,200 inmates fled at least three prisons in the region.
“I’m sure they escaped because they feared they would be affected by the earthquake. This is for sure a matter of life and death for the prisoners,” Ministry of Justice official Sri Puguh Utami said.
Many survivors have spent the last days desperately searching for loved ones while dealing with the trauma of the disaster.
One survivor, Adi, was hugging his wife by the beach when the tsunami struck on Friday. He has no idea where she is now, or whether she is alive.
“When the wave came, I lost her,” he said. “I was carried about 50 metres. I couldn’t hold anything,” he said.
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.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was working to reunite families who had become separated during the disaster and was providing “forensic services” to those carrying out the grim task of identifying victims.
Indonesia’s Metro TV broadcast aerial footage from the southern suburb of Petobo, where the devastation appeared extensive.
According to government estimates up to 700 people may have been 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, roads 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, due to damaged roads and landslides.
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 military, 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 onto land and quays and bridges trashed.
Indonesia, home to 260 million people, is one of the world’s most disaster-prone nations.
It lies on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide and many of the world’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.
A massive 2004 quake triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 throughout the region, including 168,000 in Indonesia.
Among the thousands of survivors preparing to bed down for another night outside, Masse pointed out another common worry besides food, water and missing relatives — the lack of electricity.
“People are afraid,” he said. “If there was some light, they would be less scared.”