Many children have been separated from their families and are "in shock and traumatized" following Indonesia's devastating quake-tsunami, aid workers said yesterday, as much-needed supplies trickled in to shattered communities.A total of 1,424 people have been confirmed dead and over 2,500 injured after the monster earthquake struck last Friday sending destructive waves barreling into Sulawesi island. The disaster reduced buildings in the seaside city of Palu to rubble but, with transport links badly affected, aid has been slow to arrive and looting has broken out.
Yesterday, police armed with guns stood guard outside petrol stations to ensure order in long, winding queues. Trucks carrying supplies have reportedly been ransacked en route to Palu. Authorities initially turned a blind eye but have now taken a tougher stance, with police rounding up dozens of suspected looters and the military warning that soldiers will fire on anyone caught stealing.
While rescuers continue to comb through destroyed buildings, hope is fading that anyone will be found alive under the rubble. Authorities say over 100 people are still unaccounted for. Hundreds have been buried in mass graves as authorities race to avoid a disease outbreak from corpses rotting in the tropical heat.
At least 600,000 children have been affected by the quake, Save the Children said, with many sleeping on the streets among ruins. Attention has focused on the huge number of children left orphaned, or separated from their families in the chaos as buildings collapsed across Palu and people were swept away by huge waves.
Aid organizations are urgently working with the government to identify and reunite them with their relatives, the group said. "It's hard to imagine a more frightening situation for a child," said Zubedy Koteng, the group's child protection adviser, who is in the city.
"Many children are in shock and traumatized, 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."
In a country with a long-standing problem with "fake news", authorities vowed to clamp down after false reports related to the disaster circulated online, including one saying another quake had hit Sulawesi.
Ferdinandus Setu, communications ministry spokesman, said authorities had received several reports about suspected cases and were working to ensure that Indonesia's internet sphere is free from hoaxes. Rescuers seeking survivors are focusing on half a dozen key sites around Palu, including a shopping mall and the Balaroa area where the sheer force of the quake turned the earth temporarily to mush.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. There have been small signs of things returning to normal. Power has returned to parts of Palu, phone networks are back up and even some markets are open for business.
The national disaster agency has called for improvements to cope with future events. With Indonesia sitting on the seismically active Pacific "Ring of Fire," it said 176 tsunamis have been recorded since 1629. Officials estimated some 148.4 million Indonesians are at risk in earthquake-prone areas while 3.8 million people could be in danger due to tsunamis, it said, adding that there is only a 30-40 minute window to warn villagers to flee a tsunami.
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