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

UN humanitarian office estimates some 200,000 people are in urgent need of aid; food and water in short supply

  • An earthquake victim is bandaged at a makeshift hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi Indonesia, October 3, 2018. (Tatan Syuflana/AP)
    An earthquake victim is bandaged at a makeshift hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi Indonesia, October 3, 2018. (Tatan Syuflana/AP)
  • A young quake survivor searches for salvageable items from the rubble of a residence in Lere subdistrict in Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (ADEK BERRY/AFP)
    A young quake survivor searches for salvageable items from the rubble of a residence in Lere subdistrict in Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (ADEK BERRY/AFP)
  • The devastation after tsunami waves swept through coastal houses and buildings in Wani, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi, seen in a aerial photograph taken on October 3, 2018. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP)
    The devastation after tsunami waves swept through coastal houses and buildings in Wani, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi, seen in a aerial photograph taken on October 3, 2018. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP)
  • An Indonesian rescue team carries the body of a victim following an earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 3, 2018. (Tatan Syuflana/AP)
    An Indonesian rescue team carries the body of a victim following an earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 3, 2018. (Tatan Syuflana/AP)
  • A police K9 unit continues to search for victims in the wreckage following earthquakes and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi Indonesia, October 3, 2018. (Tatan Syuflana/AP)
    A police K9 unit continues to search for victims in the wreckage following earthquakes and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi Indonesia, October 3, 2018. (Tatan Syuflana/AP)
  • A giant plume of volcanic ash rises from Mount Soputan, in the town of Tomohon, Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 3, 2018. (Hetty Andih/AP)
    A giant plume of volcanic ash rises from Mount Soputan, in the town of Tomohon, Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 3, 2018. (Hetty Andih/AP)
  • Quake-affected residents return to their collapsed homes in an attempt to salvage belongings in Balaroa, West Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (YUSUF WAHIL/AFP)
    Quake-affected residents return to their collapsed homes in an attempt to salvage belongings in Balaroa, West Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (YUSUF WAHIL/AFP)
  • Rescue personnel search for earthquake survivors at a collapsed home in Balaroa, West Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (YUSUF WAHIL/AFP)
    Rescue personnel search for earthquake survivors at a collapsed home in Balaroa, West Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (YUSUF WAHIL/AFP)
  • Quake survivors sell lunch at a roadside restaurant in Palu in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP)
    Quake survivors sell lunch at a roadside restaurant in Palu in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP)
  • Quake survivors salvage items from the debris of a factory complex in Palu in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP)
    Quake survivors salvage items from the debris of a factory complex in Palu in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP)
  • Indonesian soldiers assist earthquake victims to receive medical treatment at a field hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 2, 2018. (Chandra/AP)
    Indonesian soldiers assist earthquake victims to receive medical treatment at a field hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 2, 2018. (Chandra/AP)
  • Damage following a massive earthquake and tsunami at Talise beach in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 1, 2018. (Tatan Syuflana/AP)
    Damage following a massive earthquake and tsunami at Talise beach in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 1, 2018. (Tatan Syuflana/AP)
  • Indonesian soldiers line up the bodies of tsunami and earthquake victims for a mass burial in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia,October 2. 2018. (Rifki/AP)
    Indonesian soldiers line up the bodies of tsunami and earthquake victims for a mass burial in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia,October 2. 2018. (Rifki/AP)
  • Survivors rest outside the airport as they wait to get a flight out of Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 1, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD)
    Survivors rest outside the airport as they wait to get a flight out of Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 1, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD)

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

National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the number of dead had risen to 1,407 across four areas around the ravaged seaside city of Palu, and 519 bodies had been already buried.

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

Government rescue workers are focusing on half a dozen key sites around the city — 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.

Quake survivors salvage items from the debris of a factory complex in Palu in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP)

Residents in hard-hit, remote villages like Wani in Donggala province say little help has arrived and hope is fading.

“Twelve people in this area haven’t yet been found,” Mohammad Thahir Talib told AFP.

“In the area to the south, because there hasn’t been an evacuation we don’t know if there are bodies. It’s possible there are more,” the 39-year-old said.

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.

Australia announced it will send 50 medical professionals as part of a $3.6 million aid package. The United States and China are among other countries that have offered assistance.

The Israeli government has yet to publicly offer to send emergency aid or any other kind of assistance to the country. In the past, Israel has sent large delegations to disaster-stricken areas, and offered to send help to others hit by disasters, including countries with which it has no diplomatic relations such as Iran and Iraq.

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.”

Quake-affected residents return to their collapsed homes in an attempt to salvage belongings in Balaroa, West Palu, Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018. (YUSUF WAHIL/AFP)

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 am 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 on Tuesday to ward off people ransacking shops.

Six of the Indonesian social affairs ministry’s trucks laden with supplies were reportedly looted en route to Palu.

In the main route north out of the city, an AFP journalist saw youths blocking the road and ask for “donations” to clear the way.

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.

Body bag shortage

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

The Indonesia-based ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance said that more body bags were “urgently” needed as fears grow that decomposing corpses could provide a breeding ground for deadly diseases.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by a lack of heavy machinery, severed transport links and the scale of the damage.

A giant plume of volcanic ash rises from Mount Soputan, in the town of Tomohon, Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 3, 2018. (Hetty Andih/AP)

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.

On Wednesday, Australia said it was sending a medical team to the disaster zone and providing an additional $5 million in aid.

‘There’s no toilet’

With power returning to parts of Palu late Tuesday and phone networks back up and running, there were some signs of things getting back to normal.

But for most, daily life has changed beyond all recognition.

Palu residents crowded around daisy-chained power strips at the few buildings with electricity, or queued for water, cash or gasoline being brought in via armed police convoy.

Lines to get a few liters of gasoline lasted more than 24 hours in some places.

Sanitation is also a growing problem. “People everywhere want to go to the toilet but there’s no toilet. So we do it along the road at night,” said 50-year-old Armawati Yarmin.

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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