Indonesia Asks Foreign Aid Workers To Leave As Tsunami Death Toll Surpasses 2,000

It has been nearly two weeks since a 7.5 magnitude earthquake rocked central Sulawesi and triggered a deadly tsunami, and now that the bodies have been buried and at least some of the rubble has been cleared, local authorities are getting a better idea of just how many people lost their lives in the disaster.

According to TASS, "more than 10,600 residents suffered injuries, 2,500 of them are in critical condition." said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, Indonesia's disaster management chief. Most of the more than 2,000 deaths attributed to the disaster occurred in the city of Palu, the provincial capital of the province. More than 74,000 people were displaced.

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More than 400 aftershocks have rocked the island in the hours after the quake, which struck directly offshore at a shallow depth of less than 10 miles, which amplified its power.

Meanwhile, new footage of the tsunami's impact and immediate aftermath has emerged on social media. The footage shows a shocking wall of water smashing through trees and homes:

Though roughly 5,000 people remain missing, the Indonesia government has ordered foreign NGOs to "retrieve their personnel" immediately and leave the island, causing some to worry that Indonesia's intolerance of the NGOs could lead to further loss of life.

Tim Costello, the chief advocate for charity World Vision, called the announcement by the government "very odd" and said it meant that overworked and traumatised Indonesia staff and volunteers were not able to be supported and relieved by fresh foreign staff.

"Foreign journalists are free to walk around and report, but humanitarian workers who are foreign and are bringing both the experience and the relief to our staff who lived through the tsunami [are not]," he told the ABC. "They’re demoralised, they’re knocked about, so this is what’s very strange."

Locally registered NGOs have been allowed to remain. Government rescue agencies have been criticized for what some said was a sluggish response to the disaster. It took the government days to move supplies and workers to the devastated city of Palu, and even longer to reach remote areas where the disaster knocked out communications. In the aftermath of the disaster, the city of Palu went days without power and clean water, leading to reports of looting, long queues for fuel and desperate scenes at the city’s airport, per the Guardian.

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One aide worker contacted by the Guardian said he understood that there are "tax issues" and other liabilities stemming from foreign NGO workers though this seemed suspicious.

According to the government, large-scale searches are scheduled to cease on Thursday while small-scale operations may continue in some areas. Meanwhile, one Indonesian village called Petobo is struggling to recover after a phenomenon known as "soil liquefaction".

Several Petobo villagers described to Channel News Asia their anxieties surrounding their search for missing relatives, many of whom have been presumed dead - buried meters under the liquid soil that overtook the village during the earthquake.

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Liquefaction is the phenomenon where soil becomes infirm as the earthquake shakes and turns to liquid. The result is comprehensive devastation that makes it almost impossible for search and rescue workers to retrieve all the bodies.

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Here's a breakdown of disaster-related figures, courtesy of Bloomberg and Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency:

  • 2,549 people are seriously injured
  • 671 people are still missing
  • 82,775 people are displaced
  • Recovery of electricity services has reached 90%
  • Govt received 72.52 tons of international aid as of Oct. 7
  • Govt plans to turn several areas impacted by earthquake and tsunami, such as in Petobo and Jono Oge, into memorial parks or green open space