Updated at 12:14 p.m. ET on 2018-10-05
Foreign cargo planes with relief goods began arriving in Indonesia on Thursday, while officials warned the death toll could climb as the fate of residents in outlying districts remained unknown almost a week after a quake and tsunami obliterated Sulawesi island.
The death toll from the Sept. 28 double disaster rose to 1,424 on Thursday while about 2,550 people have been hospitalized after suffering serious injuries, the National Disaster Management Agency said.
Most of the casualties are in the provincial capital Palu, a coastal city of about 374,000 people, but reports have emerged of dozens of bodies being recovered in the neighboring regencies of Sigi and Donggala.
With many people who lived in houses swallowed by mud in several neighborhoods still unaccounted for, the death toll is expected to climb, disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
Eleven countries are sending aircraft to deliver supplies and take part in the relief effort to alleviate the suffering of more than 70,000 displaced by the disaster.
Five aircraft were scheduled to arrive on Thursday, while 15 were expected in the coming days, Indonesian Air Force chief Yuyu Sutisna said.
An Australian Air Force plane carrying clothes, bedding, tools, tarpaulins and food arrived on Thursday, while two Singapore Hercules C-130s were on standby in the port city of Balikpapan on Borneo island, Yuyu said.
The United States will send three Hercules C-130 cargo planes, he said.
“The arrival of the aircraft doesn’t mean that the problem of logistics is over, because the slots at the airport in Palu are very limited,” he said.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM) to play a major role in coordinating and extending assistance for Indonesia.
“It is heartbreaking to learn about the news and, as neighbors, we do not want to be sitting and watching from the sidelines,” Mahathir said during a speech in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative capital.
The European Union has pledged around 8 million euros (U.S. $9.2 million) in humanitarian aid to Indonesia and offered water purification equipment, emergency shelters, generators and other essential supplies, officials said.
Shops reopen, provide semblance of normalcy
In Palu, about 1,500 km (937 miles) northeast of Jakarta, some shops in the Masomba traditional market reopened on Thursday, providing a semblance of normalcy amid widespread devastation.
“I’m grateful that the market is open, though many shops are still closed,” said Jumyati, a 41-year-old housewife.
“I just bought rice, fish and some spices. It’s enough for home cooking,” she said.
Palu has been the focus of rescue efforts since the quake spawned a tsunami and caused the earth to turn into mud, swallowing homes and causing buildings to collapse.
International aid agencies said delivery of relief goods had been hampered by broken roads, downed power lines and crippled communications.
“We went to Sigi today, and this is what the road to that area looks like,” Iris van Deinse, who works for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), posted on her Twitter page. “The ambulance couldn’t get through and the team needed to walk.”
She posted photos of cracked roads and a delivery truck partially swallowed by the ground that rose several feet into the air.
Reports of more bodies found in remote areas were starting to trickle in.
Parts of Palu were without electricity almost a week after the disaster.
At a camp for the displaced outside a mosque in the city’s west, survivors told BenarNews they had received food but little else.
“When it gets dark people just go to sleep, because there’s little else they can do without electricity,” said Muhammad Fadlin, 32, a fisherman whose house was destroyed in the quake.
Mangge Alfian said he was selling fish in the Lere market near the coast of the Gulf of Palu when the magnitude 7.4 quake struck.
He ran as fast as he could to his house nearby to save his wife and his daughter, but found other houses in the neighborhood obliterated.
“I panicked and got into a neighbor’s car,” he said, teary eyed.
He later learned a tsunami following the quake destroyed the neighborhood.
“When I heard the news, I resigned to myself. I don’t know the fate of my wife and child. I was told that my dead bodies were found there,” he said.
“If they’re dead, I let them go.”
On Wednesday, the Geneva-based IFRC tweeted that its volunteers were the first aid workers to reach Petobo village where they recovered 14 bodies after going through debris and thick mud.
Elsewhere, survivors have started to rebuild their lives.
Residents in the Kabonga Besar village in Donggala regency were hopeful things would get better, even though shops remained closed and essential goods were hard to find.
“We have ordered rice, cooking oil, sugar, eggs from Makassar and once they arrive we will start selling,” said Mastur, a shop owner at the Pasar Ganti market.
Resident Mirsan said he was grateful to receive aid, but did not want to be reliant on handouts.
“I hope the market will open soon,” he said.
Meanwhile, police said they had arrested 42 people who took advantage of the chaos by allegedly looting shopping malls.
They are accused of stealing bags of cacao, food, boxes of ceramics, corrugated roofing materials and other goods, police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.
Authorities also are cracking down on social media users who spread unfounded rumors about impending disasters.
Police have arrested nine people since Tuesday for spreading messages that big earthquakes would strike in other places, including Jakarta, said police spokesman Setyo Wasisto.
Television news reports early this week showed footage of people looting a mall, but recovery was evident on Thursday as banks reopened and a major mobile phone network was back in service, Reuters said, adding fuel shipments have started arriving.
International charity group Oxfam said it was working to provide clean water, hygiene kits and shelter packs to about 500,000 people.
“In many areas of Palu and surrounding towns, there is no running water and few working toilets and sanitation is a serious concern,” Ancilla Bere, Oxfam manager in Indonesia, told BenarNews.
Ahmad Syamsudin in Jakarta and Ali Nufael from Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.