News ID: 232224
Published: 0315 GMT October 03, 2018

Time running out for survivors as Indonesia toll tops 1,400

Time running out for survivors as Indonesia toll tops 1,400
JEWEL SAMAD-AFP

The death toll in Indonesia's twin quake-tsunami disaster passed 1,400 Wednesday, with time running out to rescue survivors and the UN warning of "vast" unmet needs.

Authorities have set a tentative deadline of Friday to find anyone still trapped under rubble, at which point – a week after this devastating double disaster – the chances of finding survivors will dwindle to almost zero, AFP reported.

Military spokesman M. Thohir said the number of confirmed dead has risen to 1,411, while the disaster agency said 519 bodies have already been buried.

Government rescue workers seeking survivors are focusing on half a dozen key sites around the seaside city of Palu – the Hotel Roa-Roa where up to 60 people are still believed buried, a shopping mall, a restaurant and the Balaroa area where the sheer force of the quake turned the earth temporarily to mush.

At least 150 people are unaccounted for beneath the rubble, officials said.

According to the UN's humanitarian office almost 200,000 people need urgent help, among them tens of thousands of children, with an estimated 66,000 homes destroyed or damaged by the 7.5-magnitude quake and the tsunami it spawned.

Despite the Indonesian government urging foreign rescue teams to "stand down" because the crisis was in hand, residents in hard-hit, remote villages like Wani in Donggala Province say little help has arrived and hope is fading.

In Geneva, the United Nations expressed frustration at the slow pace of the response.

"There are still large areas of what might be the worst-affected areas that haven't been properly reached, but the teams are pushing, they are doing what they can," Jens Laerke, from the UN's humanitarian office, told reporters late Tuesday.

The World Health Organization has estimated that across Donggala, some 310,000 people have been affected by the disaster.

Survivors are battling thirst and hunger, with food and clean water in short supply, and local hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of injured.

Officials on the ground said that while the government was now inviting offers of help, there is still no "mechanism for this to be implemented".

Landing slots at Palu airport are snapped up by the Indonesian military, although it was expected to be open to commercial flights from 7:59 a.m. on Thursday.

Palu's port, a key transit point for aid, has been damaged.

Signs of desperation are growing, with police officers forced to fire warning shots and teargas to ward off people ransacking shops.

On the outskirts of the city of Palu, hundreds of people sifted through the ruins of a collapsed factory, salvaging food, drinks and construction materials.

Indonesia President Joko Widodo, who faces reelection next year, insisted the military and the police were in full control. "There is no such thing as looting," he said on a visit to Palu.

As survivors pick through the shattered remains of their neighborhoods, the death toll continues to rise.

In yet another reminder of Indonesia's vulnerability to natural disasters, the Soputan Volcano in Sulawesi erupted Wednesday, spewing volcanic ash up to 4,000 meters above the crater.

The state disaster agency warned people to stay at least four kilometers (two and a half miles) away, but said there was no need to evacuate for the time being.

International aid offers have picked up since Jakarta's belated request for help, with the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund announcing late Tuesday that it was releasing $15 million in aid.

Indonesia sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire", the world's most tectonically active region, and its 260 million people remain hugely vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

   
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