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Indonesian residents trapped in tsunami-hit Palu seek food, water

Evacuees throng the local airport to leave their city, Palu, overwhelmed by an earthquake and tsunami, on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, on Oct. 2, 2018. (Mainichi/Aya Takeuchi)

PALU, Indonesia -- Survivors of a major earthquake and tsunami that devastated this coastal town face deteriorating health conditions as many of them have been forced to live outdoors amid serious water, food and fuel shortages.

Many evacuees who lost their homes are living around the local airport. They sit on cardboard or pieces of cloth, and cover themselves with plastic sheets when it rains. No relief supplies have arrived, so they have to go out to find food on their own using scarce fuel, or wait for their friends to visit with whatever supplies they can provide.

Arisan, 46, fled to the airport area with his family of 15 the day after the Sept. 28 quake. "We came here because we expected to find some relief supplies at the airport," he said on Oct. 2. "It's been four long days since the tsunami, and my kids are feeling ill." The Petobo area of Palu, where his home used to stand, was hit with liquefaction, and most houses sank into the soil as muddy water spewed out of the ground. Roads are cracked and difficult to traverse.

Arisan's family has three motorbikes, but only one is left with gas. "I don't know how long we'll be able to endure this," he said. "We'd be happy if only they gave us food and water."

The Palu airport partially resumed operations on Sept. 30. According to Garuda Indonesia airline, people who had purchased seats before that date can fly, but there are no plans to sell new tickets, and an airport in Makassar in the southern part of Sulawesi is the only destination. But still, the airport is crowded with people trying to flee Palu.

Among the evacuees at the Palu airport was a 41-year-old female owner of a supermarket that was ransacked after the quake and tsunami. She came to the airport with her family of eight including a 9-month-old baby. She decided that the family would be safer at the airport than at home. "Our house was OK but security was deteriorating and we felt threatened," said the woman. "We want to leave Palu as soon as possible." Taking a land route would involve the risk of running out of fuel, said the woman, so she intends to stay at the airport until tickets become available.

The supermarket her family opened two years ago was looted a day after the quake. Police officers simply stood by as looters left with some 2 billion rupiah (about 15 million yen) worth of merchandise. "The government may say that public security is being maintained, but that is not the reality. I want you to report that we need support from the international community," said the woman.

(Japanese original by Aya Takeuchi, Jakarta Bureau)

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