Over 2,000 dead in Indonesia quake-tsunami disaster

JAKARTA – The death toll from Indonesia’s multiple earthquakes and an ensuing tsunami has crossed 2,000, with at least 680 still missing, the country’s disaster management agency said on Wednesday.

The government says around 68,000 houses are damaged.

The tsunami with the height of 0.5 to 3 meters devastated coastal areas near Talisa beach in Palu city and Donggala district last weekend.

Some 519 victims have already been buried. Rescuers are searching for what they believe are 152 people still trapped under rubble, according to spokesman of the national disaster management agency Sutopo Purwo Nugroho..

The quakes that triggered a tsunami destroyed 2,403 houses, according to a satellite image, while a total of 362 aftershocks with 12 of them felt occurred after the main shock, said Sutopo.

The natural disaster forced a total of 70,821 people to flee their homes and take shelter in camps or under tarpaulins in 141 spots.

The race is on to get them food and other essential supplies. But the scale of the problem may be much bigger than that.

The United Nations’ disaster relief agency says up to 191,000 people are in urgent need of assistance, with more than 934 communities likely affected.

The World Health Organization estimates that 310,000 people have been affected at the quake’s epicenter in Donggala regency, along with 350,000 in neighboring Palu.

The road to recovery will be long. More than 600 schools and tens of thousands of homes will have to be patched up or rebuilt, a task made more difficult by more than 350 aftershocks.

Indonesia’s military has taken the lead in the recovery effort, flying in supplies and evacuating survivors on C130 Hercules transport planes. Among those evacuated are 120 foreigners — two less than originally thought — including 32 from Thailand and 19 from Germany.

In total, the government has deployed 3,169 military personnel as well as 2,033 police officers.

They are being called on to keep the peace, with looting leading to at least 65 arrests.

The military will be assisted in the relief effort by international organizations and at least 29 countries who have offered everything from sarongs to geospatial mapping services.

Singapore has also offered two Hercules, South Korea two more, the United Kingdom one and Japan two.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday visited disaster-hit Palu to check the disaster-relief efforts. He said search and rescue missions are being carried out according to plans, supported by heavy-duty vehicles.

“Excavators have been sent here and in Balaroa district as the search of bodies has been intensified by the search teams,” he said at Petobo village located in Southern Palu.

Widodo called on shop owners and mini markets to open their businesses so as to speed up recovery of the economy.

Eastern Indonesia is vulnerable to graver risks of quakes and tsunamis as it lies on an area where three plates of Indo-Australia, Eurasia and Pacific meet, according to Sutopo.