The death toll from a series of powerful earthquakes that devastated the Indonesian island of Lombok this month has risen to at least 555, an official said Friday.
About 77,000 houses were damaged, forcing nearly 400,000 residents to live in temporary shelters, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).
A week after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake killed 20 people, a temblor measured at 6.9 struck Lombok on Aug. 5, causing widespread devastation.
Two more earthquakes hit two weeks later, causing more deaths and damage.
Military helicopters have been deployed to distribute aid supplies after complaints that assistance was slow to come to affected areas.
“The extent of the destruction and damage to infrastructure such as roads and bridges are slowing aid distribution,” Sutopo said.
Food, sanitary facilities, tents, and blankets are among items the displaced people need most, he said.
The government estimates that the cost of the damage caused by the disaster exceeds 7.45 trillion rupiah (U.S. $510 million).
It has so far released nearly 1 trillion rupiah ($68 million) in emergency funds, on top of 100 billion rupiah ($6.8 million) from BNPB, Sutopo said.
A reserve disaster fund of 4 trillion rupiah ($274 million) has been earmarked for rehabilitation and rebuilding, he added.
Sutopo defended the government’s handling of the aftermath of the disaster following criticism that its emergency response was inadequate.
“No country has handled an emergency response perfectly. There are always inadequacies. After the Katrina disaster in 2005, coordination at the federal and state level was chaotic,” he said.
The powerful hurricane killed more than 1,800 people in the southeastern United States, amid widespread accusations of a bungled government response.
In response to the criticism, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Thursday issued an executive order to speed up disaster response coordination between Jakarta and the provincial government.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area known for seismic upheavals and volcanic eruptions.