Some residents have taken to digging through reeking piles of sodden food and debris, searching a warehouse wrecked in the tsunami for anything they could salvage: cans of condensed milk, soft drinks, rice, candy and painkillers. Others carted away corrugated metal, wood, piping and other items to build temporary shelters or sell.
National police spokesman Brigadier General Dedi Prasetyo said security will be ramped up in the disaster areas to ensure law and order after 92 people were arrested for looting goods such as motor oil, tires and farming equipment. Authorities earlier allowed desperate villagers to grab food supplies from shops but have warned them not to take other things. He noted that security would be necessary for economic activity to resume.
Andi Rusding, huddled with numerous family members under a tarpaulin, said they’d gotten some aid but distribution was uneven and they felt shortchanged.
“Please tell the government and the NGOs if they’re really willing to help us with some foods please do not give it away through the command posts,” he said. “It is better to go directly to each and every tent. Because sometime (the relief goods) didn’t distribute evenly.”
In the same camp, Masrita Arifin said that more than anything she was afraid because of rumors there’d be another big quake.
Hoax warnings have proliferated since the magnitude 7.5 quake and tsunami Friday, and the national disaster agency has asked people to only rely on credible sources of information.
“I cannot describe it,” she said of their living conditions in the camp just a few hundred meters from her family’s heavily damaged home. “It’s really difficult to find water and we don’t have a place to shower, but thank God we got some aid from the government, including a medical checkup.”
The official toll has surpassed 1,400 deaths with thousands more injured and more than 70,000 residents displaced from their homes. The number of dead is expected to soar as rescue crews comb through affected areas after being slowed initially by broken, impassable roads and other damage.
The national disaster agency said a South Korean tourist remained missing. It said the health ministry has identified air transportation, water treatment, generators and shelter or tents as key priorities.
International help is pouring in, with Singapore, South Korea, Britain and Japan to send military transport aircraft. Multinational companies such as Google and Apple have also pledged monetary assistance, in addition to $15 million from the U.N. and millions more from other countries.
Military official Lt. Col. Agus Hariyanto said Palu’s airport is expected to re-open for civilian traffic later Thursday. He said 100 Indonesian marines have landed at Palu airport and 200 more were on their way to help in rescue efforts. The work to retrieve bodies has been hampered by lack of heavy equipment to dig them out.
Villager Bambang said many victims could have survived if help arrive faster. He told local television that he found a friend injured and trapped under debris while searching for his pregnant wife but was unable to help him out. The friend died later.
“He told me to bury him in front of the church. He was still alive then but he died because the evacuation was so slow,” Bambang said.
The U.N. estimated that some 200,000 people need assistance and said Indonesia has asked UNICEF to send social workers to support vulnerable children who are alone or became separated from their families
The Sulawesi coastline spreading out from Palu is a surreal landscape of debris, beached boats, overturned cars and the foundations of obliterated houses. Wrecked homes still standing were spray painted with appeals for aid. The wall of one dwelling was scrawled with the message: “Help us Mr. President.”
In some areas, rescuers use sniffer dogs to detect victims buried under tons of mud and debris.
The national disaster agency has called for improvements to cope with future events. With Indonesia sitting on the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire,” it said 176 tsunamis have been recorded since 1629.
Officials estimated some 148.4 million Indonesians are at risk in earthquake-prone areas while 3.8 million people could be in danger due to tsunamis, it said, adding that there is only a 30-40 minute window to warn villagers to flee a tsunami.