Indonesia on Monday said it would welcome foreign emergency aid as hopes of finding survivors in the rubble of crumbled buildings faded three days after earthquakes and a tsunami devastated Central Sulawesi.
President Joko Widodo authorized foreign aid after offers of assistance poured in from 18 countries, including the United States, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to Wiranto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.
“The president has decided to accept assistance from foreign countries,” Wiranto told reporters. “We have received offers of assistance from many friendly countries and we appreciate that.”
The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) put the death toll from Friday's magnitude 7.4 earthquake and subsequent tsunami at 844, with 90 others listed as missing.
Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, the armed forces commander, said the dead would be buried in a 10-by-100-meter grave to avoid the spread of disease.
All but 11 of the casualties were from Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province, while other hard-hit areas, such as Donggala regency, remained isolated due to damaged roads, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
An Indonesian aid group, Aksi Cepat Tanggap (ACT), said information collected by its volunteers showed that at least 1,203 bodies had been recovered.
Sutopo acknowledged reports of a higher death toll, but said those figures were just “an estimate.”
Officials said almost 60,000 people were displaced across the city of Palu, with many sleeping in the open, fearing another earthquake.
The European Union said it had released an initial 1.5 million euros (U.S. $1.7 million) in emergency humanitarian assistance.
The U.S. Department of State said Washington “stands ready to assist in the relief effort.”
Malaysia will contribute 500,000 ringgit (about U.S. $120,000) to help quake victims, Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysian NGOS were coordinating with the Indonesian Red Cross to facilitate delivery of supplies to disaster victims in the neighboring nation, and the nonprofit group Mercy Malaysia was assembling two rescue teams, its president, Ahmad Faizal Mohd Perdaus, told BenarNews.
“We have sent two individuals to assess the situation,” he said. “They will have to look for an air route or by land to get to the affected areas.”
Indonesia did not accept foreign aid after a series of powerful quakes devastated the island of Lombok in August, saying that local capacity was adequate.
The Lombok quakes left 564 people dead, 1,584 injured and more than 445,000 displaced, according to the BNPB.
Heavy equipment on the way
Nugroho Budi Wiryanto, operations chief for the National Search and Rescue Agency, said a fuel shortage and lack of heavy equipment had hampered the recovery of bodies.
Wiranto said the problem had largely been overcome, with 20 excavators and bulldozers on their way to the affected areas.
But a volunteer who was helping with the rescue effort at a collapsed eight-story hotel in Palu said hopes of finding more survivors were fading.
“On the first day we could hear voices from 8 or 9 people from the building’s ruins,” Thalib, who goes by one name, told the news broadcaster TVOne.
“On the second day, there were only voices from three people and on the third day only two people, including the one who was rescued,” Thalib said. No voices were heard on Sunday, he said.
Officials estimate that up to 60 people were still trapped in the crumbled hotel building, including several paragliding athletes who were staying there at the time of the earthquake.
After reports of looting by hungry survivors in Palu, aid supplies started arriving Monday and were being distributed to those in need, Sutopo said.
Rescuers were also being dispatched to Donggala and Sigi districts, which were hard-hit by the twin natural disasters but had been inaccessible to air workers, he said.
‘No one has come here to help.’
Some residents in Palu were angry about what they said was a lack of aid three days after the disaster.
"My wife could not be saved. I picked up her body myself," Mahmud, a resident of a housing complex in Balaroa, told Metro TV.
"No one has come here to help,” he said. “No one has given us aid, not even a bottle of water.”
President Widodo, during his tour in Palu on Sunday, acknowledged that rescuers were facing challenges. “We have to do many things soon, but conditions do not allow us to do so,” he told reporters.
Hundreds of people jostled on the tarmac of Palu’s Mutiara SIS Al Jufri airport, desperate to get out of the city, local television showed.
They wanted to board a Hercules cargo aircraft that delivered aid supplies, but priority was given to injured people and pregnant women.
“We don’t believe we will receive assistance if we stay here,” one man told TVOne.
On Monday, BNPB said survivors of the Lombok earthquake were still in urgent need of food, clean water, sanitary kits, health care and temporary shelters almost two months after the powerful temblor struck.
Out of 150,000 homes damaged in the disaster, 22,000 were ready to be rebuilt, while others were still subject to verification, disaster agency officials said.
Last week, hundreds of survivors rallied in Lombok, accusing the government of reneging on its promise to rebuild homes.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area known for seismic upheavals and volcanic eruptions.
About 230,000 people in a dozen countries died after a magnitude 9.1 earthquake off the west coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island spawned a devastating tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004.