Number Of Dead From Indonesia Quake And Tsunami Rises To 1,400
Updated at 5:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday
A total picture of the destruction from last week's earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia's island of Sulawesi remains unclear, despite days of efforts to aid the living and recover the dead. The central Sulawesi local government has declared a 14-day state of emergency as those efforts continue.
The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck along the coastal district of Donggala on Friday, causing at least 1,400 deaths, injuring 2,500 others and displacing tens of thousands more. Most of the known dead are from the city of Palu, and many areas thought to be hard hit by the disaster have yet to be fully assessed for damage and deaths.
The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction says in all up to 1.6 million people may have been affected by the earthquake and tsunami.
The country has also suffered a series of aftershocks, according to the United States Geological Survey. Several jolts — some as strong as 6.0 magnitude — hit Sumba, an island hundreds of miles away from Sulawesi, on Monday.
Around 66,000 houses were destroyed, and at least 62,000 people are displaced, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
In addition to the earthquake and tsunami, a volcano on Sulawesi — Mount Soputan — erupted on Wednesday, spewing ash nearly 20,000 feet into the sky, according to The Associated Press. The AP reports that a government volcanologist believes the eruption and earthquake could be connected. Volcanic activity had been increasing since August and reportedly ramped up starting Monday.
"People talk about the butterfly effect," Nazli Ismail, a geophysicist at University of Syiah Kuala, Banda Aceh told the AP. "It is possible for the earthquake to trigger the volcano eruption, but it's not conclusive. This needs to be further investigated."
The vast Indonesian archipelago lies on the western portion of the "Ring of Fire" — a seismically unstable region, where both earthquakes and volcanos are common.
The country's National Disaster Mitigation Agency, known as BNPB, is working to assist the displaced with shelter, hot meals and other aid. Relief coordination posts will be set up "soon" in the regencies of Palu, Donggala, Sigi and Parigi Mouton, according to the Jakarta Post. The agency has set aside the equivalent of $37.6 million in relief funds and declared a state of emergency through Oct. 11.
By declaring that emergency, "it will be easier for both the regional and national government to mobilize personnel, logistics, equipment as well as money to fulfill the needs of the affected area and people," BNBP spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told the Jakarta Post.
Meanwhile, many regions remain at a standstill.
The country's central airport — where many have camped out — is unusable and aid must arrive to the hardest-hit areas by truck, slowing down efforts. Many gas stations in Palu have sustained heavy damage, and residents trying to leave the area are stuck waiting for gas. Some survivors outside Palu are intercepting aid trucks to plunder supplies and other essentials as aid begins to trickle in, according to the Jakarta Post.
As NPR has reported, local and military officials arranged for a mass burial site for victims in Palu, overwhelmed by the sheer number of bodies. "Most of the deaths resulted from people being buried under rubble or being struck by the tsunami," reported the Jakarta Post.
Others were buried when quake-loosened soils lost their cohesion — a phenomenon known as liquefaction. Hundreds of people remain buried in mud in the Palu neighborhood of Petobo, according to the Associated Press. Rescue teams are attempting to dig them out.
Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla told The South China Morning Post the final death toll may rise to the "thousands" once other regions outside Palu are assessed — such as Donggala, close to the quake's epicenter, which relief workers have been unable to reach.
In a video by The Guardian, the region is strewn with devastation. Fallen buildings have flattened many cars as well.
"We have heard nothing from Donggala and this is extremely worrying," said Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Country Cluster Support in a statement.
"There are more than 300,000 people living there. This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse," said Gelfand.
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