Getting aid to Indonesia's tsunami survivors slowed by destruction

Australia is providing additional support to Indonesia in the wake of the devastating quake and tsunami which struck Sulawesi on 28 September. The United Nations has said some 200,000 people, including tens of thousands of children, are in need of help.

Bodies were still being removed from the other worst affected areas, such as the village of Petobo - about 7 km southeast of Palu - and Balaroa, where NGO workers estimated that over 1,000 people could still be buried.

"Our Hercules was one of the first two foreign aircraft to deliver aid to Palu and Indonesian soldiers cheered as we offloaded the supplies yesterday", Natapu said. Those left standing were so battered they were "not fit for use", Lakuaci said.

Most of the dead from the quake and tsunami were in Palu, the region's main urban center.

Min Kapala, a 49-year-old teacher, said she came to the city of more than 25 churches from an outlying area because her usual house of worship was destroyed and liquefaction moved a different piece of ground to its location.

He said that a further 5,000 people were suspected to be missing in the Palu subdistricts of Balaroa and Petobo but that officials were still looking to verify the claims.

Denis McClean, a spokesman of the UN Disaster Risk Reduction agency, told a briefing only public awareness would have saved people under these circumstances. But they also had hope more aid would pour into the city of Palu and the surrounding Donggala district on the island of Sulawesi.

A floating hospital run by the Indonesian navy and docked in Palu port has already assisted with the delivery of a baby, local media reported. A plan to relocate communities is being drawn up, the agency said.

"We don't agree with giving up".

Udrekh, a disaster expert at Indonesia's Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), said Indonesia is discussing with Japan whether to invest in seabed cables with sensors that could detect tsunami and earthquakes, similar to a system in Japan.

A week after a major quake brought devastation to Indonesia's Sulawesi island, Ichsan Hidayat told how the bodies of his sister and her 43-day-old daughter were found under a sea of mud and debris, the mother clutching her baby to her chest.

Nearly all of the dead have been buried in mass graves. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country.

"We are so relieved to be alive but sad because so many of our congregation died", said Dewi Febriani, 26, after a service in a tent outside the Toraja Church in Jono Oge village, south of Palu. The number of bodies lying beneath the mound of rubble, metal and mud is unknown. The archipelago sees frequent earthquakes and occasional tsunami.

National police Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo said Thursday security will be increased to ensure law and order in Palu, the largest city in the disaster zone.

In December 2004, a massive 9.1-magnitude natural disaster off the northern Indonesian island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean countries, killing 220,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 168,000 in Indonesia.

  • Rogelio Becker