President Joko Widodo called for reinforcements in a desperate search for survivors of a devastating earthquake and tsunami on Sulawesi island, as the official death toll rose above 1,200 on Tuesday and looting fueled fears of lawlessness.
Officials fear the toll could soar, as most of the confirmed dead had come from Palu, a small city 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta, while some remote areas have been cut off since Friday’s 7.5 magnitude quake triggered tsunami waves.
“There are some main priorities that we must tackle and the first is to evacuate, find and save victims who’ve not yet been found,” Widodo told a government meeting to coordinate disaster recovery efforts on the west coast of Sulawesi.
He said he had ordered the national search and rescue agency to send more police and soldiers into the affected districts, some cut off by destroyed roads, landslides and downed bridges.
The official death toll surged to 1,234, the national disaster agency said. Nearly 800 were seriously injured.
The Red Cross said the situation was “nightmarish” and reports from its workers venturing into one cut-off area, Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and close to the epicenter, indicated it had been hit “extremely hard”.
More than 65,000 homes were damaged and more than 60,000 people have been displaced and are in need of emergency help.
The government has ordered aid supplies to be airlifted in but there’s little sign of help on Palu’s shattered streets and survivors appeared increasingly desperate.
A Reuters news team saw a shop cleared by about 100 people, shouting, scrambling and fighting each other for items including clothes, toiletries, blankets and water.
Many people grabbed diapers while one man clutched a rice cooker as he headed for the door. Non-essential goods were scattered on the floor amid shards of broken glass.
At least 20 police were at the scene but did not intervene. The government has played down fears of looting saying disaster victims could take essential goods and shops would be compensated later.