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Survivors of Indonesia’s devastating earthquake grow desperate as death toll exceeds 1,200

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Photo Courtesy: Agencies

PALU, Oct 2: Desperation exploded into anger Tuesday in the town closest to the epicenter of the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit parts of Sulawesi island four days ago, with residents begging Indonesia’s president to help them as hungry survivors crawled into stores and grabbed boxes of food.

“Pay attention to Donggala, Mr. Jokowi. Pay attention to Donggala,” yelled one resident in footage broadcast on local television, referring to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. “There are still a lot of unattended villages here.”

Most of the attention so far has focused on the biggest affected city, Palu, home to 380,000 people with considerable damage. The confirmed death toll was raised to 1,234 on Tuesday afternoon, but national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said at a news conference in Jakarta that the communities of Sigi and Balaroa have not been counted yet, meaning the toll is likely to rise.

Donggala and other outlying areas have received little assistance largely due to impassable roads.

Donggala’s administration head Kasman Lassa said residents should take only food staples from shops.

“Everyone is hungry and they want to eat after several days of not eating,” Lassa said. “We have anticipated it by providing food, rice, but it was not enough. There are many people here. So, on this issue, we cannot pressure them to hold much longer.”

Desperation was visible everywhere among victims receiving little aid. In Palu, signs propped along roads read “We Need Food” and “We Need Support,” while children begged for cash in the streets and long lines of cars snarled traffic as people waited for fuel.

Teams were searching for trapped survivors under destroyed homes and buildings, including a collapsed eight-story hotel in the city, but they needed more heavy equipment to clear the rubble.

Many people were believed trapped under shattered houses in Balaroa, where the earthquake caused the ground to heave up and down violently, Nugroho said.

“I and about 50 other people in Balaroa were able to save ourselves by riding on a mound of soil which was getting higher and higher,” resident Siti Hajat told MetroTV, adding her house was destroyed.

In the Petobo neighborhood, the quake caused loose, wet soil to liquefy, creating a thick, heavy mud that resulted in massive damage. “In Petobo, it is estimated that there are still hundreds of victims buried in mud,” Nugroho said.

Residents who found loved ones — alive and dead — over the weekend expressed frustration that it took rescue teams until Monday to reach Petobo.

The magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck at dusk Friday and generated a tsunami said to have been as high as 6 m (nearly 20 ft.) in places.

About 3,000 residents flocked to Palu’s airport Monday, trying to board military aircraft or one of the few commercial flights using the facility only partially operating due to damage. Video showed some of them screaming in anger because they were not able to get on a departing military plane.

“We have not eaten for three days!” one woman yelled. “We just want to be safe!”

Nearly 50,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Palu alone, Nugroho said, and hospitals were overwhelmed.

The Indonesian air force confirmed that a Hercules aircraft carrying an unspecified number of survivors was able to leave Palu for South Sulawesi’s capital of Makassar. In addition, more than 100 police officers from the capital, Jakarta, were sent to Palu and additional Hercules aircraft carrying soldiers and supplies, including food and water, from east Java were en route, local television reported.

President Widodo authorized the acceptance of international help, Nugroho said Monday, adding that generators, heavy equipment and tents were among the most-needed items. The European Union and about 10 countries have offered assistance, including the United States and China, he said.

1200 convicts escape after multiple mass prison breaks in Indonesia
Some 1,200 Indonesian convicts are on the run from three different detention facilities in devastated Sulawesi after the region was rocked by a powerful earthquake and tsunami, a justice ministry official said Monday, reports NDTV.

One prison in tsunami-struck Palu city — built to hold just 120 people — saw most of its 581 inmates storm past guards and escape to freedom through walls collapsed by the massive 7.5 magnitude shake.

“Things were initially fine…but not long after the quake, water erupted from under the prison yard causing prisoners to panic and then run onto the road,” said Ministry of Justice official Sri Puguh Utami, adding that the water was not from the tsunami.

“I’m sure they escaped because they feared they would be affected by the earthquake. This is for sure a matter of life and death for the prisoners,” she added.

Inmates had fled from another overcapacity facility in Palu by breaking down its main door and another in Donggala, an area also hit by the disaster.

The Donggala jail was set on fire and all 343 inmates were now on the run, Utami said.

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