Indonesia quake: survivors hope for their missing ones to return back home

Charlene Craig
October 7, 2018

Last Friday, three shallow 6.0 magnitude, 7.4 and 6.1 Richter scale earthquakes which triggered a tsunami with waves between 0.5 and 3.0 meters devastated Palu and Donggala.

The national disaster agency says 1,700 homes in one neighbourhood alone were swallowed up and hundreds of people killed.

"If anyone predicts another massive natural disaster or tsunami, it's fake news", said Daryono, head of the geophysics agency's quake and tsunami information centre, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

The military was deploying battalions to the hardest-hit two cities to ensure the security of stores and mini markets, so that people can buy food and groceries. The work to retrieve bodies has been hampered by lack of heavy equipment to dig them out.

Indonesia has been hit by a number of earthquakes in recent months, with the events that struck the island of Lombok and surrounding area in July and August now thought to have cost nearly $800 million. Widodo, on his second visit to the disaster zone on Wednesday, acknowledged the aid effort had yet to reach maximum capacity.

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Volunteers are burying more victims in a mass grave a week after a powerful quake and tsunami hit the Indonesian city of Palu.

By Thursday, the official death toll stood at 1,424, but it is widely expected to rise as most of the dead accounted for have been from Palu, while figures for remote areas are trickling in or remain unknown.

The rescuers, using sniffer dogs and scanners, had detected what they believed was a person under mounds of rubble the previous evening but when they resumed the hunt early Friday, all signs of life had disappeared.

Wiranto said on local television that the government is discussing with local and religious authorities and victims' families the possibility of halting the search for victims in such areas and turning them into mass graves.

Residents whose homes have been destroyed spend hours often futilely trying to secure necessities such as fuel for generators, seven days on from the disasters.

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"It is a very severe disaster here that is going to take a long time to recover from", he said.

Indonesia has the world's biggest Muslim population but also pockets of Christians, including on Sulawesi, and other religions.

Governments from Australia to Britain are flying in supplies, the United Nations has pledged US$15 million (S$21 million) to the relief effort, and aid groups including Save the Children and the Red Cross are also on the ground.

Twenty-nine countries have pledged aid, according to Indonesia, but the delay in inviting help and severed transport links means little foreign help has arrived.

In 2004, an quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

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