INDONESIA’Tragedy Everywhere’; Aid Groups Scramble Against Time After Indonesian Tsunami

Up to 1.6 million people may have been affected by the 7.5-magnitude earthquake and tsunami, the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said.

Men walk on a damaged road in the Petobo subdistrict on Tuesday, days after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Muhammad Adimaja /Antara Foto Agency / Reuters

|AIWA! NO!|A massive relief effort is underway in Indonesia, where more than a thousand people are dead and tens of thousands more are displaced on the island of Sulawesi, after an earthquake and tsunami destroyed houses and other buildings last week.


It has taken days for the scale of the devastation to emerge, because the twin disasters crippled communications and damaged roads and airports. Those problems are also complicating efforts to bring aid to the city of Palu and other affected areas.

Nearly a week after an earthquake struck Sulawesi, spawning a massive tsunami that overwhelmed the Indonesian island’s central coast, aid groups are finally getting a foothold in the badly battered region — though challenges remain immense for relief and recovery efforts.

“Some people are now receiving basic food items like rice, noodles and canned food, but this remains a small minority. The food situation in Palu remains dire, and with the market closed we’re even struggling to feed ourselves,” said Genadi Aryawan, a Mercy Corps team member stationed in the city.

The tsunami that swept Sulawesi hammered Palu the hardest of the cities in its path. Of the more than 1,500 people who were killed in the catastrophe, the vast majority hailed from the city of nearly 300,000. And days later, fuel, sanitation and reliable information are still in short supply.

“Rumors are flying around the camps that another earthquake is imminent, one that will ‘sink’ Sulawesi,” Aryawan added. “The situation is incredibly tense, and people are becoming increasingly panicked as misinformation compounds an already desperate situation.”

Also compounding Indonesia’s woes was the eruption of a volcano on the Sulawesi’s northern peninsula. Mount Soputan sent a plume of ash towering nearly 20,000 feet into the sky Wednesday, hundreds of miles from where the quake and tsunami struck. Since then, it has continued to spew lava.

No evacuations have been ordered because of the eruption so far, but people have been warned to stay as far as 4 miles away, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for BNPB, Indonesia’s disaster response agency.


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