By Agence France-Presse
More than 1,200 people are now known to have died in the quake-tsunami that smashed into Sulawesi, Indonesia said Tuesday, as police pledged to clamp down on looting by survivors taking advantage of the chaos.
There were reports of officers firing warning shots and tear gas to ward off people ransacking shops in Palu, a coastal city ravaged by a 7.5-magnitude quake and the tsunami it spawned.
Almost 200,000 people are in need of urgent help, the United Nations says, among them tens of thousands of children.
Survivors are battling thirst and hunger, with food and clean water in short supply, and local hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of injured.
Police said Tuesday that they had previously tolerated desperate survivors taking food and water from closed shops, but had now arrested dozens of people for stealing computers and cash.
“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. We are now re-enforcing the law.”
“There are ATMs. They are open,” he added. “If people steal, we catch and investigate,” he said.
Queues for water, petrol
Despite official assurances, desperation was evident on the streets of Palu, where survivors clambered through wreckage hunting for anything salvageable.
Others crowded around daisy-chained power strips at the few buildings that still have electricity, or queued for water, cash or petrol being brought in via armed police convoy.
“The government, the president have come here, but what we really need is food and water,” Burhanuddin Aid Masse, 48, told AFP.
Queues to get a few litres of petrol lasted more than 24 hours in some places.
Sanitation is also a growing problem. “People everywhere want to go to the toilet but there’s no toilet. So we do it along the road at night,” said 50-year-old Armawati Yarmin.
Rescue efforts have been hampered by a lack of heavy machinery, severed transport links, the scale of the damage, and the Indonesian government’s initial reluctance to accept foreign help.
Along the road to Donggala — a large town close to the epicentre of the quake — there were more scenes of destruction. The town itself appeared relatively unscathed, but in the worst affected areas it was difficult to find a single vertical surface.
Donggala resident Farid, aged 48, pleaded for help: “Don’t centre all the aid on Palu,” he said. “We in Donggala have nothing.”
As if to remind the world of the tectonic fragility of Indonesia, a series of quakes hit the island of Sumba on Tuesday, albeit hundreds of kilometres from Palu.