PALU, Indonesia — Desperation exploded into anger four days after an earthquake and tsunami severely damaged parts of an Indonesian island, with residents Tuesday showing frustration at the pace of rescues, grabbing food from damaged stores and begging Indonesia’s president to help them. The confirmed toll exceeded 1,200 dead with hundreds severely injured and still more trapped in debris.
“Pay attention to Donggala, Mr. Jokowi. Pay attention to Donggala,” yelled one resident in footage broadcast on local television, referring to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. “There are still a lot of unattended villages here.”
Most of the attention so far has focused on the biggest affected city, Palu, home to 380,000 people with considerable damage. The toll was raised to 1,234 on Tuesday afternoon for the towns of Palu, Donggala, Sigi and Parigi Muntong with 799 people badly injured, national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said at a news conference in Jakarta. In Sigi and the hard-hit area of Balaroa, more people remain trapped, meaning the toll is likely to rise.
He said 153 bodies were buried Monday in a mass grave and the operation continued Tuesday and adding the government was working to speed up aid distribution. A special aircraft carrying 12,000 liters of fuel was expected to arrive and trucks carrying food were en route with police escorts to guard against looters.
Donggala and other outlying areas have received little assistance largely due to impassable roads. The town’s administration head, Kasman Lassa, said residents should take only food staples from shops.
“Everyone is hungry and they want to eat after several days of not eating,” Lassa said on local TV. “We have anticipated it by providing food, rice, but it was not enough. There are many people here. So, on this issue, we cannot pressure them to hold much longer.”
Desperation was visible everywhere among victims receiving little aid. In Palu, signs propped along roads read “We Need Food” and “We Need Support,” while children begged for cash in the streets and long lines of cars snarled traffic as people waited for fuel.
Teams were searching for trapped survivors under destroyed homes and buildings, including a collapsed eight-story hotel in the city, but they needed more heavy equipment to clear the rubble. Nearly 62,000 people have been displaced from their homes, Nugroho said.
Many people were believed trapped under shattered houses in Balaroa, where the earthquake caused the ground to heave up and down violently.
“I and about 50 other people in Balaroa were able to save ourselves by riding on a mound of soil which was getting higher and higher,” resident Siti Hajat told MetroTV, adding her house was destroyed.
In Palu’s Petobo neighborhood, the quake caused loose, wet soil to liquefy, creating a thick, heavy mud that resulted in massive damage. “In Petobo, it is estimated that there are still hundreds of victims buried in mud,” Nugroho said.
Residents who found loved ones — alive and dead — over the weekend expressed frustration that it took rescue teams until Monday to reach Petobo.
The magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck at dusk Friday and generated a tsunami said to have been as high as 6 meters (nearly 20 feet) in places.
President Widodo authorized the acceptance of international help, Nugroho said Monday, adding that generators, heavy equipment and tents were among the most-needed items. The European Union and about 10 countries have offered assistance, including the United States and China, he said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday that his government had given $360,000 to help victims and was in talks with Indonesian authorities about a second round of aid. The initial funds would go to the Indonesian Red Cross for the most obvious emergency aid needs, such as tarpaulins.
The coastline at Palu was strewn with rubble and a few brightly colored cargo containers poking out of the water. Buildings near the water were ruined shells. The arches of a large yellow bridge rested in the water and eerie drone footage showed a Ferris wheel, untouched, on a beach scraped bare by the waves.
In the Petobo neighborhood, Edi Setiawan said he and his neighbors rescued children and adults, including a pregnant woman. His sister and father, however, did not survive.
“My sister was found embracing her father,” he said. “My mother was able to survive after struggling against the mud and being rescued by villagers.”
Indonesia is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. A powerful quake on the island of Lombok killed 505 people in August, and two moderate quakes near an eastern island on Tuesday reportedly damaged a bridge.
The vast archipelago is home to 260 million people on more than 17,000 islands that stretch a distance similar to that between New York and London. Roads and infrastructure are poor in many areas, making access difficult in the best of conditions.
Story by Niniek Karmini and Stephen Wright