UN Chief Visits Quake-Hit City as Indonesia Calls Off Search Effort

Keisyah Aprilia
Palu, Indonesia
181012_ID_Palu_1000.jpg UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva visit the Balaroa neighborhood of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Oct. 12, 2018.
[Keisyah Aprilia/BenarNews]

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres toured areas in the Indonesian city of Palu devastated by an earthquake and tsunami two weeks ago, as the government declared the end to the search and rescue effort on Friday.

The death toll from the September 28 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Central Sulawesi province, of which Palu is the capital, stands at nearly 2,100, with more than 10,000 others injured, according to the National Disaster Management Agency.

But there are fears that thousands of people may still be missing in at least three villages – Balaroa, Petobo and Jono Oge – after their homes were swallowed by mud in a phenomenon known as soil liquefaction.

Guterres was briefed by the head of the disaster agency Willem Rampangilei before visiting Balaroa, one of three villages in Central Sulawesi province where many were believed to be buried after their houses were swallowed by the earthquake.

The U.N. chief was accompanied by Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva during the visit.

Guterres later inspected a makeshift hospital near the ruins of the general hospital in Ulujadi, which was destroyed in the earthquake, and talked to injured survivors being treated there.

“Here in Palu, I saw first-hand the destruction caused by the recent earthquake and tsunami. To the many people I saw and spoke to: your strength and resilience are remarkable. The U.N. is with you to support government-led rescue and relief efforts,” Guterres said on Twitter.

“I was deeply saddened to see so many people suffering in Palu amidst so much destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami. I commend Indonesians for their strength and resilience and the government for the relief efforts. You can count on U.N. support,” he said.


National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said Guterres was “impressed” by the government’s response to the disaster.

Sutopo said electricity had been largely restored and fuel was available in 33 of 36 gas stations in the disaster-hit region.

Kalla thanked the United Nations and the World Bank for the organizations’ support in the aftermath of the disaster.

“The support of the United Nations and the World Bank has provided a boost to the spirits of the people of Central Sulawesi,” Kalla said.

The World Bank has offered immediate assistance to help rebuild critical infrastructure damaged by the earthquake and to increase social protection programs to help those most affected.

“We at the World Bank have done rapidly an assessment of how serious the damage is so we can provide it to the government. It is very large, over $531 million of infrastructure, housing damage," Georgieva said

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced on Friday that it had pledged up to 1 billion dollars in loans to Indonesia to rebuild the quake-hit region.

ADB President Takehiko Nakao, who met Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on the sidelines of the IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Bali, said that the bank would provide an emergency budget support loan of up to U.S. $500 million.

Nakao also said that ADB stood ready to provide additional financing of about $500 million to support reconstruction of critical infrastructure such as water supply and sanitation, schools, roads and bridges.

The billion-dollar loan would be on top of ADB's regular sovereign lending program to Indonesia, which averages 2 billion dollars annually, the bank said.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said the recent disasters that hit Indonesia were a reminder of the need to build resilience to natural catastrophes and tackle climate shocks that exacerbate them.

"Indonesians are a resilient and compassionate people, and they will rise from this challenge stronger than ever," he said at the opening of the IMF-World Bank meeting in Bali.

Muslims hold a mass prayer in Palu on October 12, 2018, following the September 28 earthquake and tsunami that killed 2,000 people and left thousands more missing, presumed dead. [AFP]
Muslims hold a mass prayer in Palu on October 12, 2018, following the September 28 earthquake and tsunami that killed 2,000 people and left thousands more missing, presumed dead. [AFP]


Search called off

Central Sulawesi governor Longki Djanggola announced the end of the search for victims on Friday, exactly two weeks after the 7.4 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami slammed the region.

“The search ended as of today. We hope the people can accept this,” he said.

The head of Palu’s search and rescue agency, Basarano, said about 130 personnel would be on standby across the city.

“If there are reports that bodies have been found, our personnel will collect them, but we no longer actively search, unless there’s an instruction from the highest level of leadership,” he said.

In a press briefing in Jakarta on Thursday, National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo was asked about the fate of some 5,000 people he earlier said had been reported missing.

“The data still needs to be verified again, because maybe some of them are among the displaced, or left Palu,” he said. “If a victim is found dead, he or she will be declared dead, but if they are not yet found, their status will be given as a missing person,” he added.

As of Thursday, the official toll of people missing was 680, while 82,775 people were listed as displaced and 18,353 had left the province in the wake of the disaster, according to agency figures.

Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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