Indonesia is no stranger to the perils of the double-whammy natural disaster that is a coastal or undersea earthquake followed by a tsunami. One can never forget a tragedy like the 2004 quake in the Indian Ocean that sent murderous and destructive waves of seawater against all coastal areas unlucky enough to be in its path, including Indonesia. The nightmare has repeated itself anew at the end of September, when an earthquake in Sulawesi triggered another tsunami that ravaged the island province’s capital of Palu and surrounding areas. The death toll has already broken a thousand, and will only increase.
CNN reports that as of Tuesday, October 2, there has been an estimated 1,234 people killed by the September 28 earthquake and tsunami tandem in Sulawesi according to the Indonesian national disaster agency. By now the number is expected to climb as rescuers begin finding more and more bodies from the ruined and sometimes submerged rubble in Palu. A tragic element of the casualty count is that many of the dead were preparing for the Festival Pesona Palu Nomoni right on the beach, making them sitting ducks for the quake and tsunami. And the fallen may be the lucky ones.
For the survivors of the twin calamities, there is not even time to be relieved at being alive, to search for missing loved ones or even to mourn any losses. All infrastructures in Palu were wrecked, and vital goods like food, water and fuel are in short supply. Police found themselves in dilemmas where they are assigned to stand guard at shops and commercial establishments against survivors who are so desperate for commodities that they would consider looting. Sometimes they would relent and let the masses in; other times the authorities are forced to use warning shots and tear gas.
With the sheer amount of bodies being recovered from the scene, the Indonesian government has also been forced to resort to mass burials, with open-pit graves the size of soccer fields being dug up for depositing the dead in, many of which have never been positively identified. Spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho of the National Board for Disaster Management estimates the total number of affected people in Sulawesi to be 2.4 million, with around 800 wounded and more than 61,000 more being forced out of their homes for fear of collapse or landslides, or having lost them altogether. Some of them went so far as to flock to Palu airport to fly out of the city.
Fortunately, aid has started coming in from Indonesia’s neighbors, with Australia providing $500,000 in financial support and relief goods. The US has also released an initial amount of $100,000 for the stricken nation, with promises of more to come later.
Image courtesy of BBC