The confirmed death toll from an earthquake and tsunami on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island has risen to 1,234, from 844, the national disaster agency said on Tuesday, as authorities struggled to reach affected areas due to damaged infrastructure.
Four days after the disaster hit Palu and other parts of Sulawesi Island, people say they have received little help from the government.
Abdullah Sidik, limping with an injured leg, said he was heading for evening prayers when the magnitude-7.5 quake struck just after 6pm on Friday and rushed back home to find his wife and daughters.
“The earth was pushing everything up,” he said. “In that moment, I was flailing around and was hit from behind by a concrete wall. Then I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t move and I lost my wife and daughters.”
“I hope we can get aid from the government. Please pay attention to us. Palu is part of Indonesia. It feels like a dead city,” Sidik said.
“I want to bury my wife and children. Please help me find them inside,” he said.
Some of the dead were taken to a mass grave on Tuesday a day after hundreds were given mass burials.
Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan, reporting from Makassar, a port city in eastern Sulawesi, said help must come from abroad as the scale of the devastation has left everyone struggling to cope.
“If you look at the level of devastation caused by the disaster, we see that everybody is affected by it, police officers, rescue workers and even medical workers have also become victims of it,” she said.
“At this point, what is important is to clear logistics in order for aid to come in, all the roads coming into the areas affected must be covered.”
Thousands need emergency help
Nearly 200,000 people have been displaced and are in need of emergency help, while thousands have been streaming out of the stricken areas.
Rescuers have yet to reach many affected areas leading to fears the death toll could rise again.
Nigel Timmins, Oxfam’s humanitarian director, said it could take weeks to realise the full extent of the disaster.
“It’s not just a wall of water, it’s a wall of water full of debris: concrete, trees, cars – everything being churned around like a giant cement mixer. It’s like a huge bulldozer that clears away the land and afterward you’re left with complete chaos,” Timmins told Al Jazeera.
About 1,700 houses in one Palu neighbourhood were swallowed up, with hundreds of people believed buried, the national disaster agency said.
Among those killed in the area were 34 children at a Christian bible study camp, a Red Cross official said.
There was also mounting concern over Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and close to the epicentre, and two other districts – with a combined population of about 1.4 million.
Initial reports from Red Cross rescuers who had reached the outskirts of Donggala district were chilling.
“The situation in the affected areas is nightmarish,” Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) office in Jakarta, said in a statement.
“The city of Palu has been devastated and first reports out of Donggala indicate that it has also been hit extremely hard by the double disaster,” Gelfand said.
‘People in dire need’
Commercial airlines have struggled to restore operations at Palu’s quake-damaged airport but military aircraft took some survivors out on Monday, while about 3,000 people thronged the airport hoping for any flight out.
A navy vessel capable of taking 1,000 people at a time was due to be deployed to help with the evacuation.
The power company was working to restore electricity while the state oil firm had sent in fuel, officials said.
Teams of police were out on the streets on Tuesday, clearing debris and providing some reassurance to traumatised residents worried about looting.
Police said they have arrested dozens of people for looting in Sulawesi, where survivors have raided shops for water, food and other goods.
On Monday, President Joko Widodo authorised the acceptance of international help amid lack of equipment and aid materials.
The European Union, the US and China are among more than 10 countries who have offered assistance.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday that his government had given $360,000 to help victims and was in talks with Indonesian authorities about a second round of aid.
The initial funds would go to the Indonesian Red Cross for the most obvious emergency aid needs, such as tarpaulins.
Because of its location on the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” Indonesia is prone to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions and is well versed in responding to disasters.
A massive earthquake off Sumatra Island in 2004 caused a tsunami that killed 230,000 people around the region, the majority of them in the Indonesian province of Aceh. That was the last time the country had declared a national disaster.