WorldViews

After an earthquake and a tsunami, Indonesia reckons with the aftermath

This browser does not support the video element.

President Joko Widodo/Storyful; AP

A little after 6 p.m. on Friday, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake occurred on the coast of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

The earthquake set off dozens of aftershocks, but the worst damage may have come from a tsunami that occurred roughly 30 minutes later, according to witnesses. Waves as high as 18 feet crashed ashore in the city of Palu as the tsunami cascaded through the bay.

Days later, authorities are only just beginning to get a sense of the scale of the disaster, including how many people may have died.

Cover image: Hafidz Mubarak/Antara Foto/Reuters

Antara Foto/BNBP/REUTERS

This browser does not support the video element.

Wahab Abdul Rauf/Storyful

This browser does not support the video element.

Amas/Reuters

This browser does not support the video element.

itswandd/Storyful

The tsunami hit a number of populated coastal areas, including Palu, which has a population of over 330,000, according to a recent census.

For many on the coast, there was little warning about the approaching waves. By Tuesday, officials estimated more than 1,230 people had died and at least 61,000 people have fled their destroyed homes.

There are major shortages of food and water, chief Security Minister Wiranto told reporters, and local utility companies were working to restore electricity on Monday.

Hafidz Mubarak/Antara Foto/Reuters

This browser does not support the video element.

Saikhul Islam/Storyful

Carl Court/Getty Images

Carl Court/Getty Images

Hariandi Hafid/EPA-EFE

Tatan Syuflana/AP

Muhammad Adimaja/Antara Foto/Reuters

The government has said that over 2,800 troops were deployed and that an additional 2,000 police officers would soon be in the region.

Excavators from mines and plantations would also be sent to help dig through wreckage, find survivors and clear blocked roads for transportation, officials said.

In many cases, however, locals have been forced to look for survivors on their own, often using their hands to move rubble.

Carl Court/Getty Images

Tatan Syuflana/AP

Arimacs Wilander/AP

Carl Court/Getty Images

This browser does not support the video element.

Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency/Storyful

There are widespread concerns that in more remote areas, the situation could be even more dire. Some aid agencies pointed towards the region of Donggala, which was close to the epicenter of the quake.

“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 office in Jakarta. “This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse.”.

This browser does not support the video element.

Reuters

Ola Gondronk/AFP/Getty Images

Mast Irham/EPA-EFE

This browser does not support the video element.

Andi Fahmi Gunthur/Storyful

Athit Perawongmetha/REUTERS

One area of concern for the government now is the sheer number of people who are without shelter.

The charity organization Save the Children said it had heard many reports of children who had been separated from their parents and were now lost and unaccompanied.

There have also been reports of looting, and local authorities said that hundreds of inmates had escaped from a prison in Palu after the earthquake.

Carl Court/Getty Images

Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images

Muhammad Adimaja/Antara Foto/Reuters

“The water turned turbid and cannot be consumed. Clean water is an urgent need for the people of Palu.”

— Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia's National Agency for Disaster Management

One big question is why early-warning systems in place for tsunamis had failed to predict the scale of the disaster.

The government has admitted that Indonesia’s tsunami buoys, set up after a 2004 quake caused waves that killed 226,000 across 13 countries, had not been in operation since 2012. Though a warning did go out after the initial quake, Indonesia’s geophysics agency lifted it 34 minutes later.

This browser does not support the video element.

Reuters

Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Hafidz Mubarak/Antara Foto/Reuters

Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Right now, the concern is that things will get worse before they get better. Death estimates are currently based on deaths in Palu. Maria Lauranti, Oxfam’s country director in Indonesia, told The Washington Post that the “number will definitely increase.”

The risk of a disease outbreak, as well as religious concerns, has also led to locals rushing to bury the dead in mass graves.

This browser does not support the video element.

BNPB Indonesia/Storyful

Carl Court/Getty Images

“The biggest challenge at the moment is getting access to all communities and then bringing large quantities of vital relief supplies into the disaster zone. Transport links, power and communications are still down.”

— Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Country Cluster Support office in Jakarta