Survivors of earthquakes and a tsunami that devastated Indonesia’s Sulawesi island have started complaining about diarrhea, skin rashes and respiratory infections due to squalid conditions in makeshift shelters, health workers said Friday.
Ros Wati, who lives in a tent at a camp for displaced people in Dolo, Sigi regency, has had itchy skin for three days, with rashes spreading all over her body.
“I was given medicine two days ago but there has been no improvement,” Ros, 40, told BenarNews. “Maybe the drug isn’t right.”
Saripah, another survivor, has had diarrhea for four days, but she couldn’t find a toilet.
“I’m not the only one who has diarrhea here,” said Saripah, who uses only one name like many people do in Indonesia. “Other people are also suffering the same thing.”
The death toll from the Sept. 28 earthquakes and subsequent tsunami stood at 1,658, according to security minister Wiranto.
But officials warned that the number was likely to increase as many bodies had yet to be recovered.
Wiranto said 683 people were listed as missing, a sharp increase from the earlier figure of 113 released by the National Disaster Management Agency.
More than 1,000 people in the village of Balaroa in Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province, may still be missing after their homes were swallowed by mud during the earthquakes, said Yusuf Latief, spokesman for the National Search and Rescue Agency.
In Dolo, about 2,200 km (1,300 miles) northeast of the nation’s capital, Jakarta, a village suffered the same fate, according to local accounts.
Health personnel from the Central Sulawesi provincial police were struggling with a shortage of medical supplies as they worked at a makeshift clinic in Dolo. Authorities have not reported an epidemic.
Five doctors, two nurses and several non-medical volunteers were working at the nine-square-meter (96.8-square-foot) tent, treating up to 100 people a day, said Muhammad Rustam, an orthopedic doctor.
“Most patients complained of skin problems, diarrhea and upper respiratory infections,” Rustam said, adding that children were especially vulnerable to respiratory infections.
“We are doing our best to serve all the residents who have sought refuge here, but there are limits to what we can do,” he said.
Another doctor at the clinic, Sudarman, said dust and a lack of hygiene at the camp were to blame for the ailments.
“But some people have pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes and high levels of uric acid,” Sudarman said.
“Many residents complained that their conditions have gotten worse, but how can we give the best treatment for them when medicines are in short supply?” he said.
Aid has arrived in the area, but it is not enough, said another villager, Siti Aisyah.
“Many people have infants here, but there’s no food for infants, so they have had to eat what’s available,” she said.
Three doctors and six nurses from the international NGO Project HOPE have worked at the government-run Dolo community clinic, known locally as Puskesmas, for two days.
The clinic’s building was not damaged by the earthquake but the staff have not returned to work, with many still traumatized, said Alia Artanti, a doctor working for HOPE.
“We received 70 patients yesterday and 60 patients today,” she said.
“Many patients complained about respiratory problems, but there were also those with anxiety and high blood pressure,” she said.
With electricity still down, workers have to rely on a generator, but fuel is scarce, she said.
Across the quake-hit region, emergency relief efforts are gathering pace.
“Aid continues to come in but not all displaced people have received assistance properly because of damaged infrastructure,” National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said.
“All parties are trying to fix this,” he said.
More aircraft arriving
Australian and British cargo aircraft arrived at the airport in Balikpapan on Borneo island on Thursday and Friday, carrying clothes, bedding, tools, tarpaulins and food.
More foreign aircraft carrying relief aid were scheduled to land in at Sepinggan airport in Balikpapan in the coming days, the Air Force said.
Eleven countries, including the United States, were sending 20 transport planes to the quake-hit region.
“The United States and Indonesia are strategic partners and friends, and we are assisting in the relief effort,” Pooja Jhunhunwala, a spokeswoman at the U.S. State Department, told BenarNews. “We continue to consult closely with the government of Indonesia to determine priority needs and how the U.S. government can help most effectively.”
U.S. companies and business groups have also mobilized in the affected areas to support with transportation, in-kind donations, and fundraising for relief efforts, she said, emphasizing that the United States would send three C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to support humanitarian aid efforts.
Washington, she said, had a team of disaster experts “on the ground in Indonesia coordinating U.S. humanitarian response efforts, conducting damage assessments, and working closely with local authorities.”
At least 26 countries have offered to send aid, but Indonesia only accepted assistance from 17 of them, the National Disaster Management Agency said.
Indonesia only accepts aid in the form of air transport, tents, water treatment facilities, generators and field hospitals from foreign countries, the agency said.
A week after the disaster, hopes were fading for any survivors.
Workers from the France-based International Emergency Firefighters (IUP) said there were no signs of life under the rubble of the Mercure hotel in Palu.
“We tried to save time by using various equipment to listen and we also used a scanner,” IUP member Philippe Besson said on Metro TV. “We tried everything but there was no response.”
200 Bible camp students missing
The scale of the destruction in some affected areas has only now begun to emerge.
In the village of Jo Oge, 200 students who were attending a Bible camp were still missing after their church was swept away by mud, said Ruslan, the head of Biromaru sub-district.
“The latest information I received was that 40 bodies have been found, while only one managed to escape,” Ruslan told TVOne.
A 4-km (2.48-mile) stretch of road in the area remained impassable, he said.
Electricity and mobile communications have been restored in parts of the quake-hit region.
In Donggala regency, one of the areas hardest-hit by the disaster, Muslims flocked to the Grand Mosque, which was partly damaged, to perform evening prayers as lights turned on.
“Thank God electricity is back,” said the imam, Ilham Kawaroe, wearing a white skullcap and a white robe.
“After the earthquake only one row was filled, but now the mosque is alive again,” he said.
The disaster has displaced more than 70,000, according to officials, but the United Nations estimated that about 200,000 people needed urgent humanitarian assistance.
More than 1.5 million people were affected by the series of natural disasters, U.N. officials said.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that in Banawa, Donggala regency, every home along the shoreline was wiped out by the tsunami.
“The team has described Banawa as the worst affected area they have so far seen,” IFRC said.
“The survivors have been evacuated – or have travelled independently – to neighbouring houses in the hills, where they are in need of health care, tents, blankets, baby food, and diapers,” it said.
Ahmad Syamsudin in Jakarta and Gunawan in Balikpapan, Indonesia contributed to this report.