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Indonesia Tsunami: Death Toll Hits 1400 as Remote Areas Await Aid

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Rescuers in Indonesia are still trying to reach remote areas in Sulawesi cut off by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of the island and killed more than 1,400 people.

Efforts have largely been focused on the city of Palu, where most of the confirmed dead have been counted.

This has angered people elsewhere, who say they have not received help.

The UN has warned that large parts of what might be the “worst-affected” areas have not been reached.

“But the teams are pushing, they are doing what they can,” UN humanitarian spokesperson Jen Laerke said late on Tuesday.

Landslides, downed communications networks, and collapsed bridges are making it hard for aid workers and rescuers to reach remote areas. The entire disaster zone is home to 1.4 million people and at least 70,000 have gathered in evacuation sites across the island.

Fears remain that the death toll could grow significantly higher as new areas are reached.

What’s the latest on the ground?

In Donggala regency, an area home to 300,000 people, one aid worker told Reuters news agency that “the government is missing”.

“Everyone is desperate for food and water. There’s no food, water or gasoline,” she said. Police officers have been guarding shops against looters.

President Joko Widodo is currently on his second trip to disaster-hit areas, but he has come in for criticism from some villagers.

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“There are hundreds of people still buried under the mud in my village. I lost many members of my family and neighbours. There is no aid whatsoever which is why we’re leaving.”

More than 500 bodies have already been buried in mass graves. At least 29 countries have offered humanitarian aid, though some of it has been declined as unsuitable.

Singapore, South Korea, the UK, India and Japan have all offered C-130 military transport planes to help deliver supplies and help with evacuations.

The government has said it most urgently needs air transport, tents, water treatment systems, field hospitals and medical supplies.

In a separate incident, a volcano began erupting on the same island, Sulawesi, on Wednesday.

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Mount Soputan is about 1,000km (600 miles) away from Palu, and it is not being seen as a threat to the aid operation. The danger zone around the volcano is sparsely populated.

‘No drinks since yesterday’

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Wasliha and her family are trying to fly out of Palu

After days of waiting for aid, Wasliha decided she had to walk to find help. Her young family trekked through the mountains for more than 10 hours from her devastated village of Lolu Sigi Biromaru to Palu airport.

“We had no clean water or food and all we have is the clothes we are wearing,” she says.

Her children gulp down the water we give them, they haven’t drunk anything since yesterday.

She had heard the military was flying out and had joined hundreds of people at the airport hoping to get a seat.

Everyone wants to get out. Most can’t and are having to endure another day without power and with limited drinking water. In the town square, people patiently wait in line to refill water bottles.

Those that can make it here receive two meals a day, from a community kitchen run by volunteers and a gallon of water to bathe in.

Erna Wahyuni is cutting up a mountain of cabbage for soup. Her house was destroyed, but she wants to help.

“I was saved so I have to give back. It’s also hard just sitting in a tent in the hot sun all day, I would rather be cooking,” she laughs.

Are there still hopes of finding survivors?

Some people were rescued from the rubble in the first few days. But many of the buildings brought down by the quake were then swamped by the tsunami, so hopes of more rescues are fading.

However, rescuers say that 150 people are still unaccounted for.

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What was Palu like?

The bustling city with a population of approximately 350,000 people, with many banks and supermarkets

Situated in a rain shadow – where there is very little precipitation – and one of Indonesia’s driest places

Near the popular beach area of Tanjung Karang

Served by a busy regional airport

Why was the disaster so bad?

The 7.5-magnitude quake struck just off the central island of Sulawesi at 18:03 (10:03) on Friday at a depth of 10km (6.2 miles), setting off a tsunami that soon after engulfed Palu with waves of up to 6m.

Scientists believe the tsunami may have been set off by an underwater landslide. The waves built up height and speed as they traveled down the long narrow bay towards Palu.

Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has said the final death toll could be in the thousands, while the Red Cross estimates that more than 1.6 million people have been affected.

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