Society • 01 October, 2018

Sulawesi quake: Death toll crosses 1,200 as rescuers race to reach victims

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Francis Chan    Indonesia Bureau Chief

A general view of a tsunami-devastated mosque in Talise beach, Palu.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Rescuers are racing against time to reach victims of last Friday’s earthquake still trapped under rubble two days after the disaster. Meanwhile, the death toll continues to rise as more bodies are found, reports straitstimes.com

President Joko Widodo on Sunday (Sept 30) sought to reassure the victims in Central Sulawesi that no effort will be spared to help them get back on the road to recovery. “I hope people will be patient. We are working on this together,” he added.

His comments, made during his visit to parts of the provincial capital Palu, devastated by a 7.4-magnitude quake and a 3m-high tsunami it triggered, come as the death toll rose to more than 1,200 on Sunday.

The number is set to go up further as rescuers finally reach Donggala, which was cut off from them until Sunday because roads leading to the regency were damaged and communications were down.

Donggala, normally a 30-minute drive from Palu, is nearer the epicentre of the quake and the authorities are fearing the worst.

According to national disaster management agency BNPB, some 16,700 people have been displaced by the quakes, but about 2.4 million in Donggala and Palu will need humanitarian aid.

“Fuel, drinking water, medical personnel, tents, electricity, food and other essentials are urgently needed,” BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said at a press conference in Jakarta Sunday.

Emergency teams could not get to Palu earlier because parts of its airport runway and air traffic control tower were damaged by tremors. But the local air navigation authorities Sunday cleared Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie airport for more aircraft, including commercial flights, to land and take off.

The evacuation of quake victims, including a 53-year-old Singaporean who was in Palu for a paragliding competition, has also started with the additional flights.

Mr Ng Kok Choong, who was among more than 60 foreigners evacuated by Indonesian military (TNI) transport, arrived home in Singapore Sunday afternoon.

Rescuers are trying to reach those trapped under collapsed buildings.

But they are taking a more cautious approach when digging for survivors among the debris, as aftershocks were causing building structures to be unstable. Dr Sutopo said more than 200 aftershocks have been recorded since Friday.

Officers from national search and rescue agency Basarnas were seen chipping carefully through rubble at what remains of the Roa Roa Hotel in downtown Palu, while another team at the nearby Tatura Mall were trying to establish a safe access point into the building.

 Basarnas official Agus Haryono told reporters at the site that rescuers had detected mobile-phone signals inside the mall and were trying to find a way to get in.

Before he arrived in Palu on Sunday, President Joko mobilised the TNI and police to support rescue and relief operations. His administration has also set aside 560 billion rupiah (S$51.4 million) for relief efforts.

This latest crisis comes after earthquakes hit Lombok, a resort island in West Nusa Tenggara province, located south of Sulawesi, recently.

Relief efforts are still ongoing in Lombok, where nearly half a million people were left homeless following the series of deadly earthquakes in July and August.

Meanwhile, two Singapore Civil Defence Force officers are in Indonesia as part of a team from the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance.

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