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At least 1,234 dead in tsunami-hit Indonesia, desperate survivors rob shops

There were glimmers of hope among the countless tragedies

Agencies  |  Palu (Indonesia) 

Indonesia earthquake
Indonesian rescue workers evacuate the body of a victim of an earthquake in Petabo, South Palu | Photo: Reuters

Indonesian authorities on Tuesday raised the death toll to 1,234 in the 7.5-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit island last week. 

The twin disasters on Friday left the coastal city of and the adjoining areas in ruins. Authorities said tens of thousands of people were growing increasingly desperate for food, fuel and water. According to Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency, hundreds of people may still be trapped under the rubble of buildings. Rescue teams were still not able to reach all the affected areas, the BBC reported

There were reports of officers firing warning shots and tear gas to ward off people ransacking shops in Palu, a coastal city ravaged by a 7.5-magnitude quake and the tsunami it spawned.

Almost 200,000 people are in need of urgent help, the United Nations says, among them thousands of children.

Police said Tuesday that they had previously tolerated desperate survivors taking food and water from closed shops, but had now arrested 35 people for stealing computers and cash.

"On the first and second day clearly no shops were open. People were hungry. There were people in dire need. That's not a problem," said deputy national police chief Ari Dono Sukmanto.

"But after day two, the food supply started to come in, it only needed to be distributed. We are now re-enforcing the law." "There are ATMs. They are open," he added.

Indonesia earthquake
Photo: Reuters
"If people steal, we catch and investigate." Despite official assurances, desperation was evident on the streets of Palu, where survivors clambered through wreckage hunting for anything salvageable.

crowded around daisy-chained power strips at the few buildings that still have electricity, or queued for water, cash or petrol being brought in via armed police convoy.

"The government, the president have come here, but what we really need is food and water," Burhanuddin Aid Masse, 48, told AFP. The Indonesian military is leading the rescue effort, but following a reluctant acceptance of help by President Joko Widodo, NGOs also have teams on the ground in

With the ground still shaking from aftershocks, people were still too afraid to go indoors. An earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale rocked Sumba island of on Tuesday, but there were no reports of any damage.

Colonel Muhammad Thohir of the Indonesian Army said that authorities need to send aid via helicopter in areas like Donggala, one of the towns most affected by the tsunami, as well as other districts which were not accessible to the rescuers.

He said gasoline and water supplies were being transported to the island, but they were still insufficient for the people affected.

Indonesian officials said that priorities included sending food to those in need, conducting a mass burial of victims, and guaranteeing the security of the airport, which was expected to start receiving commercial flights on Wednesday.

Indonesia Earthquake
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, accompanied by Central Governor Longki Djanggola, visits people injured by the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Sulawesi, September 30, 2018

So far, 153 victims have been buried in mass graves to prevent an outbreak of disease caused by decomposing bodies. According to a CCN report, more than 100 corpses were still lying in the yard outside the Undata Hospital in

The hospital's director, Komang Hadi Sujendra, said the one facility alone had received over 200 bodies since the tsunami.

An estimated 2.4 million people were affected by the disaster, said the disaster management agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho. He said that 800 were badly injured and more than 61,000 people were displaced.
 

Among the dead are dozens of students whose lifeless bodies were pulled from their landslide-swamped church in Sulawesi.

"A total of 34 bodies were found by the team," Red Cross spokeswoman Aulia Arriani told AFP after the grim discovery, adding that 86 students had initially been reported missing from a Bible camp at the Jonooge Church Training Centre.

Arriani said rescuers faced an arduous trek to reach the mudslide and retrieve the victims.

"The most challenging problem is travelling in the mud as much as 1.5 hours by foot while carrying the bodies to an ambulance," she said.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation but there are small pockets of religious minorities, including Christians, across the archipelago of 260 million people.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned Monday that there were 191,000 people in urgent need of help after the quake-tsunami, among them 46,000 children and 14,000 elderly -- many in areas that aren't the focus of government recovery efforts.

The dead -- many yet uncounted, their bodies still trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings -- are also a source of concern for authorities.

In Indonesia's hot, equatorial climate, bodies quickly begin to rot and provide a breeding ground for deadly diseases.

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

Indonesia Earthquake
Residents affected by an earthquake and tsunami wait to be evacuated by military aircraft at Mutiara Sis Al Jufri Airport in Palu, Central Sulawesi

Trucks stacked with corpses wrapped in orange, yellow and black bags are bringing their load to the site, where the bodies are dragged into the grave as excavators pour soil on top.

There were glimmers of hope among the countless tragedies.

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

And for Azwan, who -- like many Indonesians -- goes by a single name, there was joy when he was reunited with his wife, Dewi, after 48 hours of fearing the worst as he searched hospitals and morgues.

The 38-year-old civil servant struggled to keep his emotions in check as he told how the couple had been reunited two days after Dewi had been swept away by the tsunami.

"I was so happy, so emotional -- thank god I could see her again," Azwan told AFP.

But for some, the search yields only sorrow as they trudge around open-air morgues, where the dead lay in the baking sun -- waiting to be claimed, waiting to be named.

The 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.

First Published: Tue, October 02 2018. 13:28 IST
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