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Indonesia: Thousands lack access to aid

October 2, 2018

The death toll from a powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia's Sulawesi island is now in the thousands. The extent of damage is still unknown as remote villages remain cut off from aid due to blocked roads.

A search and rescue team evacuates a victim from the ruins of the Roa-Roa Hotel in Palu

Aid has been slow to reach some of the most hard-hit areas of Indonesia following a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami on Friday that has now killed more than 1,200 people.

So far, the death toll has mostly been made up of deaths in the small city of Palu, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta, but some nearby remote areas have been cut off from aid due to impassable roads and there are fears the death toll could surge once access is gained.

Read more: Indonesia quake: 'Tsunami warning system needs improvement'

The earthquake caused tsunami waves that hit the Indonesia's Sulawesi island and has so far claimed the lives of at least 1,234 people.

International aid organization The Red Cross described the situation as "nightmarish" and said reports from its workers in one cut-off area, Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu, indicated it had been hit "extremely hard."

Map of the earthquake

The community of Balaroa had also received no government help sparking outrage among residents as people remain trapped.

A number of disaster personnel arrived in the Balaroa neighborhood on Tuesday morning to assess the damage, and an official visiting from another part of Indonesia that has migrants in Balaroa said the area had been "blended," the Associated Press reported.

Four badly hit districts have a combined population of about 1.4 million.

National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said almost 62,000 people had been displaced from their homes.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla has said by the time a final toll is released, "thousands" may have died in the disaster.

Aid needed to prevent stealing

Authorities are expecting the arrival of a special aircraft carrying 12,000 liters of fuel and trucks carrying food, which were en route with police escorts to prevent people from taking supplies.

In Palu, signs could be seen along the roads reading "We Need Food" and "We Need Support."

Indonesian police on Tuesday said they had arrested dozens of people for stealing, with survivors raiding shops for water, food and other necessary goods.

"On the first and second day clearly no shops were open. People were hungry. There were people in dire need. That's not a problem," said deputy national police chief Ari Dono Sukmanto.

"But after day two, the food supply started to come in, it only needed to be distributed," adding that, for the moment, people taking food would still be allowed.

However, the theft of other goods, such as electronics, would not be tolerated, Sukmanto said. 

"If they take laptops, if they take money etc, we are going to act," Sukmanto said. "We have detained 35 people."

"There are ATMs. They are open. If people steal, we catch and investigate," he added.

law/aw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)