‘Now it’s too late’: anger over Palu’s long wait for tsunami aid

A damaged mosque near the Talise beach in Palu city, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia Photograph: HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK/EPA-EFE/EPA

Without enough food, water or fuel, people are resorting to desperate measures

by in Palu

Muhammad Siadi had the vacant stare of someone who might have just returned from a war zone. His shirtless, wiry frame was covered in injuries: a large gash in his neck, a shaved circle around a few bumps on his head and a spray of grazes from his shoulder to his back.

On Friday night he had been at home in Sigi, Palu, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, changing the gas for his wife when the 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck. The quake caused a wall to collapse on his back and a piece of corrugated iron gouged into his neck.

As the house caught on fire, Siadi made the harrowing decision to leave his dying wife, trapped under the rubble, so that he and his son could get out alive. They tried to pull her out but there wasn’t time.

Four days after the disaster, he had finally received medical assistance for his neck injury, but like everything in Palu, it hadn’t happened quickly enough.

“It comes too late,” said Siadi as he fingered a silver strip of medication. “The doctor said I needed stitches, but now it’s too late because the skin is already dead, it won’t join back.”

In Palu and its surrounds, people are being pushed to the brink. The earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 1,400 people, destroyed thousands of homes and displaced 59,000. Without enough food, water or fuel, survivors are desperate.

On Monday hundreds descended on Palu’s airport begging for food or a flight out. Authorities had to temporarily shut the airport. Other people have been looting supermarkets and convenience stores or trying to raid cash machines. At least 1,400 prisoners are on the loose after prison walls crumbled.

On Tuesday evening half a dozen police officers with automatic rifles were guarding long queues of frustrated residents and their gerry cans at a Palu petrol station. Hengki, a local resident, said he had been waiting for almost eight hours in the searing heat. “I survived a disaster and now I have to survive this?” he asked, visibly agitated.

Others in the queue chimed in with shared anger and disgust. “The government doesn’t care about us,” said another resident, Yuli, repeating a refrain seen spray-painted on at least one Palu city wall.

Help is on the way but those on the ground say it isn’t coming quickly enough. On a drive up from Makassar, convoys of trucks filled with supplies could be seen on the road, accompanied by police escorts. Other aid is on the way by air and sea.

Logistics are invariably challenging in Indonesia, especially in its remote eastern regions. Damage to roads and to the airport runway has compounded the difficulties of getting supplies to where they are needed most.

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Categories: Asia, Indonesia

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