The toll from a devastating earthquake and tsunami on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi two days ago has soared to over 800 dead.
Now, the devastated region is being hit by another calamity: a slow and disorganized relief and rescue operation that almost certainly will lead to far greater loss of life.
Rescuers and relief organizations were struggling to reach the coastal Indonesia city of Palu, where most of the deaths have been recorded so far. The current death toll stands at 832 people but officials fear thousands may have been killed.
The relief response is proving to be a tragedy within a tragedy, with rescuers trickling into Palu and some nearby communities still completely cut off from relief efforts, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
The 7.5-magnitude earthquake triggered a massive tsunami on Friday evening, which crashed into Palu. The nearby city of Donggala, the site closest to the earthquake’s epicenter, was also believed to have suffered extensive damage, but little information has become available due to damaged roads and disrupted telecommunications.
Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.
Almost 14 years ago, in December 2004, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake off Sumatra in western Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.
Relief organizations were already stretched thin helping victims of earthquakes in Indonesia. Workers had to be diverted to the Palu area from the island of Lombok in Indonesia that is still recovering from three strong earthquakes that struck the island in August, killing more than 500 people.
Palu, a city of 380,000, is built around a narrow bay that may have intensified the power of the tsunami waters as they hit. Waves were reported as high as 20 feet in some places, USA Today reported Sunday.
A spokesman for Indonesia’s national disaster mitigation agency told a news conference on Sunday that the affected area was bigger than initially thought, and rescuers only had good access to Palu, one of four affected districts hit hard by the twin disasters.
Disaster agency officials said some places did not appear to have any tsunami warning sirens. Some people remained in coastal areas after the earthquake despite the national weather agency issuing an emergency alert via text message and social media, according to the officials.
But in some areas, communications failures from the earthquake might have prevented the tsunami warnings from getting to people in time, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The tsunami and quake in Indonesia struck people preparing for a beach festival, collapsed a hotel full of competitors for a paragliding tournament, and devastated coastal towns https://t.co/8qUImyhaR8
— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 30, 2018
Amazingly, none of the 22 buoys spread out over Indonesia’s open water to help monitor for tsunamis in the earthquake-prone nation had been operational for the past six years, the New York Times reported. Some had even gone missing. With over 261 million people, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country.
On Sunday, rescuers still had no heavy equipment in many areas. Search-and-rescue workers were forced to use their hands to pull away rubble that had trapped victims of the twin disasters.