Indonesia’s earthquake catastrophe
6 October 2018
Eight days after a 7.5-magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated central Sulawesi, Indonesia, the death toll continues to climb. The official figure has now surpassed 1,570 and there are more than 2,500 injured. Thousands more bodies, however, are thought to be buried in mud, under collapsed buildings, or swept out to sea.
An area with over 1.5 million inhabitants, including the cities of Palu and Donggala, has been devastated. In Palu, population 380,000, thousands of poorly-constructed houses were swallowed up by liquefaction (when an earthquake causes the ground to liquefy). Others were swept away in the tsunami. Some villages have been wiped off the map.
At least 70,000 people are homeless or displaced, many sleeping in tents or in the open. Hospitals are overflowing and medical supplies are scarce. Power has not returned to most areas. Food and drinking water are in desperately short supply. Thousands of people have been reduced to scavenging in farmland and searching abandoned shops and warehouses for food.
Ordinary people responded to the disaster with bravery and selflessness. Many spent days digging through rubble by hand in search of survivors, who were crying out for help. By yesterday, all the voices had gone silent. The lengthy delay in sending rescue teams and excavating machinery led to countless avoidable deaths among those who were trapped. Some areas have still not been reached by rescuers.
There is widespread outrage over the uncoordinated and grossly inadequate official relief operation. President Joko Widodo initially tried to downplay the catastrophe, refusing to declare a national disaster. His administration did not call for international aid for three days. Military and police were quickly sent…