Full-scale aid effort starts in tsunami-hit Indonesia after days of delays
Palu — An international aid effort to help tens of thousands of victims of Indonesia’s quake-tsunami disaster swung into gear on Thursday after days of delays, with aircraft flying in vital supplies for shattered communities.
A total of 1,424 people have been confirmed dead and more than 2,500 injured after the earthquake struck on Friday, sending destructive waves barrelling into Sulawesi island.
The double disaster reduced buildings in the seaside city of Palu to rubble — but aid has been slow to arrive and looting has broken out.
On Thursday, police armed with guns stood guard outside petrol stations to ensure order in long, winding queues.
Trucks carrying supplies have reportedly been ransacked en route to Palu.
Police have been rounding up dozens of suspected looters and the military warned that soldiers will fire on anyone caught stealing.
While rescuers continue to comb through destroyed buildings, hope is fading that anyone will be found alive under the rubble. Authorities say more than 100 people are still unaccounted for.
Hundreds have been buried in mass graves as overwhelmed authorities race to avert a disease outbreak from corpses rotting in the tropical heat.
The Indonesian government initially refused to accept international help, but as the scale of the disaster became clear President Joko Widodo reluctantly agreed to allow in overseas aid.
Efforts to get desperately needed aid to hungry and thirsty victims, many now homeless and sleeping in evacuation camps, were slow to get off the ground due to severed transport links. Palu airport, which was badly damaged in the twin disaster, finally reopened to all flights on Thursday.
"The government of Indonesia is experienced and well-equipped in managing natural disasters, but sometimes, as with all other countries, outside help is also needed," said UN aid chief Mark Lowcock, announcing the UN was pledging $15m towards the recovery effort.
Air force chief Yuyu Sutisna said foreign governments, including Singapore, South Korea and Britain, are sending 20 aircraft to help in the relief effort. Australia and New Zealand are sending air force transport aircraft to Indonesia carrying tarpaulins, generators and water containers.
A team of French rescuers were in Palu and helping search teams on Thursday, while the non-governmental organisation Oxfam said it expects to be on the ground by Saturday.
An Indonesian navy ship docked in the city is carrying water and food. "We have to get to places where people need aid really quickly," said first admiral Dwi Sulaksono.