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Desperation as aid slow to reach victims of Indonesian tsunami


UPDATED | Desperation is visible everywhere in areas heavily damaged by an earthquake and tsunami, four days after the disaster devastated parts of Indonesia’s central Sulawesi island.

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Signs propped along roads read “We Need Food” and “We Need Support,” while traffic was snarled by people waiting for fuel.

The confirmed death toll of 844 is expected to rise as authorities reach areas that were cut off by the disaster. The magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck at dusk Friday and generated a tsunami said to have been as high as 6 meters in places.

Search-and-rescue teams combed destroyed homes and buildings for any trapped survivors, but they needed more heavy equipment to clear the rubble.

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

Thousands of survivors have converged on Palu’s airport in a bid to leave the devastated city, as elsewhere victims were buried in a mass grave.

About 3000 residents flocked to its airport, trying to board military aircraft or one of the few commercial flights, local TV reported.

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.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo authorised the acceptance of international help, Nugroho said, adding that generators, heavy equipment and tents were among the most-needed items.

The European Union and 10 countries have offered assistance, including the United States, Australia and China, he said.

“We will send food today, as much as possible with several aircraft,” Widodo told reporters in Jakarta on Monday, adding that a supply of fuel was also set to arrive.

Hundreds of people were lined up for fuel at gas stations across Palu, with waiting cars snarling traffic.

Officials dug a trench 10m by 100m in Palu and began laying the dead in brightly coloured body bags side by side.

Local army commander Tiopan Aritonang said 545 bodies would be brought to the grave from one hospital alone.

On Monday, teams of workers, their mouths covered by masks, carried 18 bodies to the trench as a backhoe waited to push soil on top of the dead. More burials were expected to follow.

Nugroho said 114 foreigners were in Palu and nearby Donggala during the disaster. All were accounted for except one Belgian, one South Korean and six French.

– AP

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