Foreign aid picks up for Indonesia's desperate quake survivors

Foreign aid picks up for Indonesia's desperate quake survivors
Soldiers unload food aid from a Singapore Armed Forces supply plane at Mutiara Sis Al-Jufri Airport in Palu, Indonesia.
PHOTO: Reuters

PALU, Indonesia - International efforts to help survivors of Indonesia's devastating earthquake and tsunami gathered pace on Thursday as concern grew for hundreds of thousands with little food and water, six days after disaster struck.

Desperate residents on the west coast of Sulawesi island were scavenging for food in farms and orchards as the government struggled to overcome shortages of water, food, shelter and fuel in a disaster zone with no power and degraded communications.

Chaos has loomed at times with angry people in the region's main city of Palu, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta, looting shops and thronging its small airport, scrambling for any flight out.

The official death toll from last Friday's 7.5 magnitude quake has risen to 1,407, many killed by tsunami waves and landslides it triggered. Officials say the toll will rise.

Most of the confirmed dead have come from Palu and losses in remote areas remain unknown. Communications are down and bridges and roads have been destroyed or blocked by slips.

But international efforts to help are gearing up, after the government overcame a traditional reluctance to take foreign aid.

"The government of Indonesia is experienced and well-equipped in managing natural disasters, but sometimes, as with all other countries, outside help is also needed," UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said in a statement.

He announced an allocation of $15 million.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was appealing for 22 million Swiss francs ($22 million) to help Indonesia.

The United States had provided initial funding, deployed government disaster experts and was working to determine what other help could be given, the State Department said earlier this week.

Some aid from Britain and Australia as also due to arrive on Thursday.

In all, about 20 countries have offered help, Indonesia has said.

In Palu, some shops and banks reopened on Thursday and a major mobile phone network was back into operation. A sense of calm seemed to be returning with orderly queues at petrol stations after the arrival of fuel shipments.

Scores killed in Indonesia quake, tsunami

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    Earthquake survivors in Palu, Central Sulawesi, crowd Mutiara Sis Al Jufri Airport in Palu in a desperate attempt to leave the devastated area on Monday.

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    A combination of satellite images shows Palu, Indonesia on September 22, 2018 (L) and on October 1, 2018.

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    A combination of satellite images shows Palu, Indonesia on September 22, 2018 (L) and on October 1, 2018.

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    In the wake of mass destruction caused by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami, survivors in Palu and Donggala in Central Sulawesi have been scrambling to salvage food supplies and other items, as aid from the central government began to trickle into the region.

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    An aerial view of an area devestated by an earthquake in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 1, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.

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    Local residents affected by the earthquake and tsunami retrieve gasoline at a gas station in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

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    This handout from Indonesia's National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) taken on September 29, 2018 shows an aerial view of Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi, after an earthquake and tsunami hit the area on September 28.

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    Scores of people were killed when a powerful quake and tsunami struck central Indonesia, an AFP photographer at the scene said on Saturday (Sept 29), as rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region.

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    Photographs from Palu, home to around 350,000 on the coast of Sulawesi island, showed partially covered bodies on the ground near the shore, the morning after tsunami waves as high as 1.5 metres slammed into the city.

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    A satellite image shows Palu, Indonesia on October 1, 2018.

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    The tsunami was triggered by a strong quake that brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground as a churning wall of water crashed into Palu.

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    People living hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre reported feeling the massive shake, hours after a smaller jolt killed at least one person in the same part of the South-east Asian archipelago.

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    The quake hit just off central Sulawesi at a depth of 10 kilometres just before 6pm local time, the US Geological Survey said. Such shallow quakes tend to be more destructive.

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    Search and rescue teams have been dispatched to hard-hit areas

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    A 10-storey hotel in Palu in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi collapsed following a strong earthquake in the area.

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    As shattered survivors scoured make-shift morgues for loved ones, and authorities struggled to dig out the living or assess the scale of the devastation beyond the city of Palu, grim warnings came that the eventual toll could reach thousands.

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    Rescuers on Sulawesi island raced 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.

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

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    Still, as dire as the situation in Palu was, it was at least clear. In outlying areas, the fate of thousands is still unknown.

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    Desperate survivors, now facing a third straight night sleeping outdoors, turned to looting shops for basics like food, water and fuel as police looked on, unwilling or unable to intervene.

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'DIFFICULT TIME'

Indonesian Central Bank Governor Perry Warjiyo played down the overall impact on Southeast Asia's biggest economy of the disaster in Sulawesi, and of earlier deadly quakes on the tourist island of Lombok.

"This is really a challenging and difficult time for Indonesia and for all of us, but we are united and we stand strong and we are confident to withstand this difficult time," he told a briefing of the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club on Wednesday evening.

Bank Indonesia was helping to restore payment systems and some cash machines were working again in Palu as banks reopened, he said.

Indonesia has long been known to be vulnerable to quakes and tsunamis.

In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Safety measures implemented after that disaster, including tsunami warning systems, failed on Friday for various reasons, including government neglect, a lack of funding and vandalism.

A system of tsunami-detecting buoys has been out of action since 2012. Widodo said this week it had to be repaired and properly maintained.

Widodo, on his second visit to the disaster zone on Wednesday, acknowledged the aid effort had yet to reach maximum capacity. In particular, he cited inadequate logistics support and fuel supplies.

Also problematic has been a lack of heavy equipment for rescue workers and food, water and shelter for some 70,000 displaced people.

Rescue workers have begun to reach more remote areas in a disaster zone that includes 1.4 million people, but hundreds of thousands have received no aid.

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