Aid poured into disaster-ravaged Palu on Sunday after days of delays as efforts ramped up to reach 200,000 people in desperate need following a deadly quake-tsunami in the Indonesian city.
Planeloads of food, clean water and other essentials were landing with increasing frequency at Palu on Sulawesi island, where a powerful earthquake and a wall of water leveled parts of the region and killed at least 1,763 people, officials said Sunday.
Looters ransacked shops in the aftermath of the disaster more than a week ago, as food and water ran dry and convoys bringing life-saving relief were slow to arrive.
But the trickle of international aid to Palu and local efforts to help the survivors have accelerated in recent days.
Daisy chains of troops unloaded supplies directly onto trucks for distribution to villages around Palu or helicopters for delivery further afield.
More than 82,000 military and civilian personnel, as well as volunteers, have descended on the devastated city while Indonesian army choppers are running missions to deliver supplies to remote parts of the region that were previously blocked off by the disaster.
“They are in great need because the road is cut off and it’s accessible only by air”, Second Lieutenant Reinaldo Apri told AFP after piloting a chopper to rugged Lindu district, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Palu.
Tonnes of donations from Australia and the United States reached Palu on Sunday morning aboard Hercules military aircraft. A plane chartered by Save the Children also landed with emergency shelter and water purification kits as did another carrying a medical team from South Africa.
Teams of Indonesian Red Cross workers set up warehouses and fanned out to distribute supplies across the region, where the double-punch disaster reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble.
But relief workers face a monumental task ahead.
Getting vital supplies to affected areas has proved hugely challenging, with only a limited number of flights able to land at Palu’s small airport, forcing aid workers to take grueling overland journeys.
The tens of thousands left homeless by the disaster are scattered across Palu and beyond, many squatting outside their ruined homes or bunkered down in makeshift camps and entirely dependent on handouts to survive.
“There is nowhere else to get food, nowhere is open,” said 18-year-old Sela Fauziah in Palu’s central market, where she queued with hundreds for essential food items being distributed by soldiers.
Things are even more desperate in remoter areas.
As a helicopter touched down the jungle-covered mountains and ravines of Lindu, villagers rushed to grab boxes of noodles and bags of rice and oil.
The few minutes on the ground was enough time for Simsom Mudju, 49, to jump aboard with his young son, tasked with telling the outside world about the marooned community’s plight.
“I am coming to Palu to report that we need tents, because 95 percent of our village has been destroyed,” he said.
In difficult terrain outside Palu, chopper pilots can only land in villages with football fields and must compete with strong winds and rain, Apri said.
Hospitals are still overstretched and short on staff and bare essentials.
“At the moment we still have medicine, but we really need drinking water for the patients and paramedics,” doctor Achmad Yudha, from Anutapura Hospital in Palu, told AFP.
Medical teams have not even reached some of the hardest-hit far-flung villages, despite more than a week lapsing since the quake.
“Today, my team and I want to go to Sigi, because that area has been untouched by paramedics,” doctor Arsanto Tri Widodo told AFP, referring to one of the worst-hit areas.
Even as aid reached the region, exhausted survivors were heading in the opposite direction.
Thousands have streamed out of Palu to nearby cities since the quake, many waiting days to board military flights.
Anam was among 100 civilians at Palu airport lucky enough to board a Hercules military flight on Sunday.
“I am happy to finally get a plane. I have been waiting for three days,” the 33-year-old told AFP.
Hope of finding survivors has all but faded, as authorities moved closer to calling off the search for the dead and declaring devastated areas mass graves.
“This is Day 10. It would be a miracle to actually find someone still alive,” Muhammad Syaugi, the head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency told AFP.