Earthquake victims in Palu remain beyond reach

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Ruslan Sangadji, The Jakarta Post, Palu, Central Sulawesi | Headlines | Tue, August 21 2012, 2:44 PM

Limited road access to earthquake victims in the district of Lindu in Central Sulawesi’s Sigi regency, has disrupted the delivery of medicine and relief supplies to the area, which was jolted by a 6.2-magnitude earthquake last Saturday, the local health agency said.

“We cannot reach Lindu district and the surrounding areas because of a lot of debris. We are now corresponding with the National Disaster Mitigation Agency [BNPB] to provide helicopters,” Central Sulawesi Health Agency chief Abdullah said in Palu on Monday.

The earthquake took place as residents were ending their fast on the final day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan. Dozens of villages in Lindu district bore the brunt of the destruction, because of their close proximity to the earthquake’s epicenter near a local lake. The villages, located within the Lore Lindu National Park, are relatively isolated from the outside world.

Due to the area’s designation as a national park, the government is forbidden from constructing roads to provide access to the area. To reach the villages, one has to either walk for around six hours, or ride a motorcycle for around three hours. The area also has limited telecommunication access, according to Abdullah.

Therefore, he said, it was urgent to find a way to distribute aid to the isolated quake victims.

According to the latest data from the Central Sulawesi Disaster Mitigation Agency, the earthquake has killed six people and damaged 1,097 houses, seven places of worship, three schools and one government office. Dozens of people suffered minor injuries during the earthquake.

“Currently, 11 victims who suffered severe and minor injuries are being treated at the Undata Hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi,” Abdullah said, adding that the number of victims might increase because many villages were still beyond the reach of search and rescue teams.

The death toll from the earthquake later rose to six on Monday as rescuers reached mountainous villages that had been cut off by landslides, officials said. At least 43 others were injured, including eight in critical condition, according to Associated Press report.

BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said rescuers with heavy equipment and bulldozers were clearing the roads to at least 14 villages in Sigi that were blocked by landslides.

Nugroho said six people were killed by falling debris and tons of mud, including a 9-year-old boy, and the toll was likely to rise further.

He said the earthquake damaged hundreds of houses and buildings in Parigi Mountong and Sigi, the closest regencies to the epicenter, and roads and bridges were destroyed.

Later on Monday afternoon, Central Sulawesi Governor Longki Djanggola said that the Indonesian Red Cross agreed to provide a helicopter to help evacuate the isolated earthquake victims in Sigi.

“I have contacted the Red Cross chairman, Jusuf Kalla. He promised to provide a helicopter that will be sent on Tuesday,” the governor said.

According to Longki, the helicopter will be very useful to assist thousands of earthquake victims in dozens of villages in Lindu district.

BNPB chairman Syamsul Maarif arrived in Palu on Monday and handed over Rp 200 million (US$21,000) to Longki to assist the victims. The fund will later be disbursed to Sigi Regent Sifi Aswadin Randalembah.

Meanwhile, another earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale jolted southwestern Banda Aceh in Aceh province on Monday at 6:18 p.m., the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported.

The agency stated on its website that the epicenter was located 440 kilometers away from Banda Aceh, at a depth of 74 kilometers.

The earthquake, the agency reported, did not trigger a tsunami.