Indonesia struggles to get aid into quake zone
Aid was being scrambled into the earthquake and tsunami-devastated area of Sulawesi in Indonesia yesterday.
Survivors streamed away from their ruined homes as accounts of devastation filtered out of remote areas, including the death of 34 children at a Christian camp.
The death toll of 844 was certain to rise as rescuers reached devastated outlying communities hit on Friday by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami waves as high as six metres.
Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of several hotels and a mall in the city of Palu, 1,500km northeast of the capital Jakarta. Hundreds more were feared buried in landslides that engulfed villages.
Of particular concern is Donggala, the region of 300,000 people north of Palu close to the epicentre of the quake, and two other districts, where communication had been cut off.
The combined population stands at about 1.4 million.
One woman was recovered alive from ruins overnight in the Palu neighbourhood of Balaroa, where about 1,700 houses were swallowed up when the earthquake liquefied the soil.
"We don't know how many victims could be buried there, it's estimated hundreds," said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
All but 23 of the confirmed deaths were in Palu where workers were preparing a mass grave to bury the dead as soon as they were identified.
Aid worker Lian Gogali, who had reached Donggala district by motorcycle, said hundreds of people facing a lack of food and medicine were trying to get out, but evacuation teams had yet to arrive and roads were blocked.
"It's devastating," she told Reuters by text.
Indonesian Red Cross spokeswoman Aulia Arriani said a church in an area of Sigi, south of Palu, had been engulfed in mud and debris. Officials said the area suffered liquefaction, when the shock of the quake temporarily destabilises the soil.
"My volunteers found 34 bodies - children who had been doing a 'Bible' camp," Ms Arriani said.
A witness said queues at petrol stations on the approaches to Palu stretched for kilometres. Convoys carrying food, water and fuel awaited police escorts to prevent pilfering before heading towards the city while residents streamed out.
Nearly 60,000 people have been displaced, many terrified by powerful aftershocks. The military was airlifting people, with 3,000 thronging Palu's small airport as officers struggled to keep order.
"I'd get a plane anywhere. I've been waiting for two days. Haven't eaten," said 44-year-old food vendor Wiwid.