Sulawesi quake: Indonesia open to international assistance for quake relief

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visits an area affected by an earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Sulawesi, on Sept 30, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesia is open to international assistance as it ramps up relief efforts in the quake-hit city of Palu and Donggala regency in Central Sulawesi.

President Joko Widodo has given the green light for his government to accept international help for urgent disaster response and relief, said Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) chairman Tom Lembong on Monday (Oct 1) morning.

"I'm helping coordinate help from private sectors from around the world," he posted on Twitter. "Pls (sic) message me at my social media accounts or email:"

The latest tweet from Mr Lembong, Indonesia's former Trade Minister, comes as well wishes from the rest of the world poured in for victims of this latest disaster to hit the country in recent months.

Some local media reports had put the latest death toll at 1,203 as of Sunday (Sept 30) night, but Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, who was born in South Sulawesi, expects the toll to hit thousands as recovery efforts continue in the days ahead.

Latest videos and photos circulated on social media as well as TV news show widespread devastation across the province, with villages, housing estates as well as other built-up areas flattened.

The lack of drinking water, food, fuel and electricity has added to rising tensions among residents in the affected areas - including more than 16,700 people displaced by the 7.4-magnitude quake and the tsunami it triggered on Friday.

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Indonesia has received an outpouring of support from global leaders and others from around the world since the news of the catastrophe broke last week.

They include Singapore President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Russian President Vladimir Putin, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

"Hundreds of people have lost their lives as yet another deadly natural disaster has hit Indonesia," said Ms Mogherini in a statement on Sunday.

"The European Union stands by the people and authorities of Indonesia at this difficult time and we have offered our full support. The EU has already activated its emergency Copernicus satellite mapping service to assist the authorities. We continue to closely monitor the situation and we are ready to mobilise more assistance."

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in a Facebook Post on Monday (Oct 1) said he had written to his Indonesian counterpart, retired general Ryamizard Ryacudu to express his condolences.

"I assured him that the SAF stands ready to provide humanitarian assistance. Our C-130s stand ready to deliver help," said Dr Ng, referring to the Singapore Armed Forces. "Our prayers go to the survivors for their pain and suffering to be alleviated."

Jakarta is scrambling to expand resources to aid the victims, having mobilised its military and police to support rescue operations.

President Joko's administration has also set aside 560 billion rupiah (S$51.4 million) for relief efforts.

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Five days after disaster struck Indonesia's Sulawesi island, aid workers warn of increasing desperation in hard-hit outlying areas that have yet to get any help at all.

This latest crisis comes after earthquakes hit Lombok, a resort island in West Nusa Tenggara province, located south of Sulawesi, recently.

Rebuilding efforts are still ongoing in Lombok, where nearly half a million people were left homeless following a series of deadly earthquakes in July and August.

Singapore Red Cross on Monday said it is pledging $50,000 in humanitarian aid towards the devastation that struck Central Sulawesi.

"The society is monitoring the situation very closely and an advance team has been readied and on standby since the weekend," said a spokesman.

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