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The death toll in Indonesia’s twin quake-tsunami disaster climbed to 1,424 on Thursday with time running out to rescue survivors six days after the disaster struck.

Authorities have set a tentative deadline of Friday to find anyone still trapped under rubble, at which point the chances of finding anyone alive will dwindle to almost zero.

Indonesia’s disaster agency said thousands were injured and tens of thousands – possibly hundreds of thousands – displaced from their homes.

More than 66,000 homes were destroyed or damaged by the magnitude 7.5 quake and the tsunami it spawned on Friday.

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‘The scene in Donggala is of devastation’

Al Jazeera’s Wayne Haye reports from Donggala, the first area hit by the tsunami, that aid has taken time to reach Donggala, as most of the rescue efforts after Friday’s devastating disasters focused on Palu City.

“People have been complaining that they are being treated like second-class citizens here because they are not receiving the aid [other] areas have,” Haye said.

“Slowly but surely, that is improving, the roads to Palu are opening so we are seeing some aid, some assistance, coming through here.

“There is no search and rescuing operation going on, there are still people missing but they assume that these people have now been swept off to sea and will not be seen again.”

Indonesia disaster: Donggala still waiting for help

Haye added: “The scene in Donggala is of devastation in the small, peaceful and once-picturesque fishing villages. As the tsunami came through here, it took absolutely everything with it. People’s homes, businesses and their livelihood, as the wave swept through here, into the bay towards Palu city itself.

“Officially, the death toll is just over 150 people, relatively low considering the number of people who live here and the size of the wave that came here… That is because a lot of people simply escaped… up onto some pretty high hills…”

More than 600,000 children affected

At least 600,000 children have been affected by the quake, Save the Children said, with many sleeping on the streets among ruins.

“It’s hard to imagine a more frightening situation for a child,” said Zubedy Koteng, the group’s child protection adviser. “Many children are in shock and traumatised, alone and afraid. Young children searching for surviving relatives will have witnessed and lived through horrific experiences which no child should ever have to see.”

People arrested for looting 

At least 92 people have been arrested for looting in areas devastated by the earthquake.

Local television reported that the people arrested for looting were caught with goods including motor oil, tires, ceramic tiles, and farming equipment. They were from Palu and the surrounding districts struck by the disasters.

Al Jazeera’s Ted Regencia, reporting from the Balaroa area in Palu, witnessed a man armed with a katana being arrested by the Indonesian army for stealing motorcycle spare parts. 

The Indonesian army arrested a man for stealing motorcycle spare parts and confiscated the sword he was armed with [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

Indonesian troops prepared to shoot looters as desperation grows

Indonesia’s military said it will shoot looters in the earthquake and tsunami-ravaged province of Sulawesi after desperate survivors emptied shops of food and water.

Signs of desperation are growing with police officers forced to fire warning shots and tear gas to ward off people ransacking businesses. With food and clean water in short supply, survivors are battling thirst and hunger.

“If there is looting again, we will quickly fire a warning shot and then shoot to immobilise,” Colonel Ida Dewa Agung Hadisaputra told AFP news agency.

According to the UN’s humanitarian office, almost 200,000 people need urgent help, among them tens of thousands of children.

Officials on the ground said while the government had invited offers of foreign help, there is still no “mechanism for this to be implemented”.

Volunteers continue to recover bodies on Thursday in the Petobo area of Palu [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera] 

Denny Liem, 41, owner of the Roa Roa Hotel, said among 30 people believed trapped is a Korean member of a paragliding team [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

Foreign aid picks up for Indonesia’s desperate quake survivors

International efforts to help survivors of Indonesia’s devastating earthquake and tsunami gathered pace on Thursday.

Desperate residents on the west coast of Sulawesi island were scavenging for food in farms and orchards as the government struggled to overcome shortages of water, food, shelter and fuel in a disaster zone with no power and degraded communications.

“The government of Indonesia is experienced and well-equipped in managing natural disasters, but sometimes, as with all other countries, outside help is also needed,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said in a statement. He announced an allocation of $15m.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was appealing for $22m to help Indonesia.

Some aid from the UK and Australia as also due to arrive on Thursday.

In all, about 20 countries have offered help.

More than 66,000 homes were destroyed or damaged by the magnitude-7.5 quake and the tsunami it spawned on Friday [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

Slow arrival of aid frustrates survivors

A trickle of emergency aid is only now reaching parts of Sulawesi island and some increasingly desperate survivors are taking matters into their own hands.

Climbing over reeking piles of sodden food and debris, a crowd on Wednesday searched a wrecked warehouse for anything they could salvage: cans of condensed milk, soft drinks, rice, candy and painkillers.

“We came here because we heard there was food,” Rehanna, a 23-year-old student wearing a red motorcycle helmet, told the Associated Press news agency. “We need clean water, rice.”

Children eat outside their tent for safety reasons after the earthquake in Biromaru village in Sigi [Beawiharta/Reuters]

 

Women line up to buy rationed cooking gas in Palu. [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

‘It’s impossible she’s alive’

Palu resident Rikardi Safarudin found the house his mother was in when the tsunami hit the small city on Friday.

The house was among those carried hundreds of metres by the waves of mud.

“Looking at all this I know, really, it’s impossible she’s alive,” he told Al Jazeera. “But I can’t quite bring myself to give up hope.”

Influx of aid and humanitarian workers at Palu airport

Aeroplanes bringing in aid supplies, humanitarian workers and volunteers from different countries continued to land at the Palu airport late on Wednesday. 

“We’ve seen them arrive with their own cargo of medical assistance and kits that they’ve brought in,” said Al Jazeera’s Jamila Alindogan, reporting from the Palu airport.

“We’re also seeing an influx of forces, presence of the military as signs of reassurance from the government that life can be picked up here again and that security is very much in place,” she added.

With many areas inaccessible and blocked, machines to clear the debris have also been brought in, Alindogan reported.

“There are areas that remain closed off, where many civilians are still believed to be trapped, and this is a logistical issue,” she said.

 

President Widodo: ‘We want to revive economic activity’

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has said that the evacuation process, cleaning and the search for victims in the quake-hit city of Palu are going according to plan.

On his second visit to the affected area on Wednesday, Widodo stressed that the government wants to “immediately revive economic activity in markets and shops”. 

“The first step is evacuating, after that is rehabilitation and reconstruction,” he told Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas in Palu.

During his visit, Widodo scanned different areas of devastation within the city, met some of the evacuees and went to a hospital.

“His presence here signals that the government is in full control,” said Al Jazeera’s Alindogan. 

“It is going to be a long process, but the government is basically assuring the people of Indonesia that they are in charge and you can see that just by how things are moving here at the airport,” she added. 

Survivors in Donggala district are desperate for food and water, say aid workers [Athit Perawongmetha/ Reuters]

‘We’re on our last legs’: Survivors in Donggala plead for help

Survivors in Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and closer to the epicentre of Friday’s earthquake, said they were scavenging for food in farms.

Johnny Lim, a restaurant owner reached by telephone in Donggala town, told Reuters he was surviving on coconuts.

“It’s a zombie town. Everything’s destroyed. Nothing’s left,” Lim said over a crackling line.

“We’re on our last legs. There’s no food, no water.”

In another part of Donggala, Ahmad Derajat said survivors were scavenging for food in fields and orchards.

“What we’re relying on right now is food from farms and sharing whatever we find like sweet potatoes or bananas,” said Derajat whose house was swept away by the tsunami, leaving a jumble of furniture, collapsed tin roofs and wooden beams.

“Why aren’t they dropping aid by helicopter?” he asked.

Aid worker Lian Gogali described a perilous situation in Donggala, which includes a string of cut-off, small towns along a coast road north of Palu.

“Everyone is desperate for food and water. There’s no food, water, or gasoline. The government is missing,” Gogali told Reuters.

She added that her aid group had only been able to send in a trickle of rations by motorbike.

The official death toll from the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami that hit the west coast of Sulawesi island has passed 1,407.

But officials fear the toll could soar, as most of the confirmed dead have come from Palu, a small city 1,500 km northeast of Jakarta and losses in remote areas remain unknown, as communications are down and bridges and roads have been destroyed or blocked by landslides.

Soputan spewed a column of ash more than 6000m into the air [Handout/ Indonesia’s national disaster agency/AFP]

‘No casualties’ from Sulawesi volcano eruption

A volcano that erupted on Wednesday on disaster-struck Sulawesi island did not cause any additional casualties, Indonesia’s National Disaster Agency said.

Mount Soputan, at the northern tip of Sulawesi Island, spewed a massive column of ash more than 6,000 metres into the air, but did not affect any residential areas, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesperson for the agency.

“There were no casualties,” he told reporters in Jakarta. “The danger zone is only in the radius of four kilometres from the volcano peak. Within the four kilometre radius, there are no residential areas.”

He dismissed concerns that the volcano’s eruption could affect planes transporting aid and supplies to the quake disaster areas in and around the city of Palu.

“The volcanic ash from Mt Soputan did not head toward the airport in Palu, so it did not disrupt the airport and evacuation activities there,” he said.

Disaster victims forage for food as aid trickles in

Residents in one Palu neighbourhood that was devastated by the twin quake-tsunami disaster clapped and cheered in excitement on Wednesday when a truck laden with supplies came in to their area.

“I’m so happy,” said 63-year-old Heruwanto, while clutching a box of instant noodles.

“I really haven’t eaten for three days,” he told The Associated Press news agency.

Elsewhere in the city, desperate people searched for anything edible in the shell of a warehouse that tsunami waves pounded. People pulled out small cartons of milk, soft drinks, rice, sweets and painkillers from piles of sodden goods.

Andi Arif told AP he was looking for medicine and food for his children.

“There is some aid but we never got it,” he said, referring to government aid.

Victims of earthquake and tsunami are being evacuated from Palu airport [Athit Perawongmetha]

More than 25 countries have offered assistance after Indonesian President Joko Widodo appealed for international help. Little of that, however, has reached the disaster zone.

Al Jazeera’s Wayne Haye, reporting from the airport at Palu, the largest city heavily damaged by Friday’s disaster, said “there was no shortage of aid coming in”.

“We are seeing medical supplies, food, water and body bags come in. But much of the aid does seem to be sitting at the airport and not getting out fast enough to the areas that need it most,” he said.

An aircraft carrying 12,000 litres of fuel had arrived, and trucks with food were on the way with police escorts to guard against looters.

Many gas stations were inoperable, either because of quake damage or because of people stealing fuel, national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in Jakarta.

Emergency supplies are yet to reach some of the hardest-hit areas [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Indonesian military chief Hadi Tjahyanto said one armed soldier and one armed police officer would be placed on every aid truck and soldiers would be sent to secure markets, the airport and fuel depots to maintain order.

He added that a Singaporean military transport plane will help evacuate victims from the airport in Palu.

Australia announced it will send 50 medical professionals as part of a $3.6m aid package. The United States and China are among other countries that have offered assistance.

At the quake zone, water is the main issue because most of the supply infrastructure has been damaged, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.

Haq said the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs has asked the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, to send social workers to the affected area to support children who are alone or became separated from their families.

And he said the World Health Organization is warning that a lack of shelter and damaged water sanitation facilities could lead to outbreaks of communicable diseases.

The Indonesia-based ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance said that more body bags were “urgently” needed as fears grow that decomposing corpses could provide a breeding ground for deadly diseases.

Quake, tsunami toll raised to 1,407

The death toll has increased to 1,407, according to Indonesia’s disaster agency.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesperson for the national disaster agency, said on Wednesday that 519 bodies have been buried as rescue workers scrambled to locate survivors around the ravaged city of Palu.

Underlining the growing sense of urgency, Indonesian President Joko Widodo made his second visit to the disaster zone on Wednesday, putting on an orange hard hat to talk to rescue workers at a collapsed Palu hotel.

“What I’ve observed after returning now is heavy equipment has arrived, logistics have started to arrive although it’s not at maximum yet, fuel has partly arrived,” Widodo told reporters.

The president called for reinforcements in the search for victims, after inspecting what he called an “evacuation” effort at the Hotel Roa Roa, where he said some 30 people lay buried in the ruins.

Joko Widodo made his second visit to the disaster zone on Wednesday [Tatan Syuflana/AP]

“We’ll continue this process so all the victims can be retrieved,” he said.

Rescue workers were scrambling on Wednesday to locate survivors around the ravaged seaside city of Palu, with officials saying they are “racing against time” to find anyone alive.

Rescuers were focusing on half a dozen key sites around Palu – the Hotel Roa-Roa where up to 60 people are still believed buried, a shopping mall, a restaurant and the Balaroa area where the sheer force of the quake temporarily liquified the earth.

Authorities set a tentative deadline of Friday to find anyone still trapped under the rubble, at which point, the chances of finding survivors will dwindle to almost zero.

At Palu’s stricken airport, hundreds of victims were waiting to board Indonesian military transport planes to be evacuated to Makassar, capital of South Sulawesi province. The injured and those with children received priority seating on the Hercules C-130 aircraft.

“The evacuation was orderly and there was no panic. But they obviously looked tired and stressed out,” Al Jazeera’s Ted Regencia reported from the scene.

WATCH: ‘Time running out’ for Indonesia tsunami survivors (1:59)

Outside Palu’s Mutiara Al Jufri Airport, hundreds of others were camped out, some receiving medical treatment, others awaiting a chance to escape.

There was mounting concern over Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and closer to the epicentre, and two other districts – with a combined population of about 1.4 million.

Initial reports from Red Cross rescuers who 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.”

The wreckage of the Ponulele Bridge in Palu. [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

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