MAMUJU, Indonesia: Aid packages were handed out on Monday (Jan 18) to thousands of people left homeless and struggling after an earthquake killed at least 81 people on an Indonesian island.
More rescuers and volunteers were deployed to the hardest-hit city of Mamuju and the neighbouring district of Majene on Sulawesi island, where the 6.2-magnitude quake struck early on Friday, said Raditya Jati, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency's spokesperson.
He said a total of 70 people died in Mamuju and 11 in Majene, and about 27,850 survivors were moved to shelters. Nearly 800 people were injured, with more than half of them still receiving treatment for serious injuries.
Water, which has been in short supply, as well as food and medical supplies were being distributed from trucks. The military said it sent five planes carrying rescuers, food, medicine, blankets, field tents and water tankers.
Volunteers and rescue workers erected more temporary shelters for those left homeless in Mamuju and Majene.
Most were barely protected by makeshift shelters that were lashed by heavy monsoon downpours. Only a few were lucky to be protected by tarpaulin-covered tents. They said they were running low on food, blankets and other aid, as emergency supplies were rushed to the hard-hit region.
Masked doctors treated patients with broken limbs and other injuries at a makeshift medical centre set up outside the only one of Mamuju's hospitals that survived the quake relatively intact.
"The patients keep coming," Nurwardi, manager of operations at Mamuju's West Sulawesi General Hospital, told AFP earlier.
"This is the only hospital operating in the city. Many need surgery but we have limited resources and medicine."
The open-air triage centre was desperately short of staff, and those on hand worked frantically despite the risk of contracting COVID-19.
The hospital was scrambling to open up more rooms for surgery and erect additional tents outside to treat the injured, said Nurwardi.
But fears that another quake could bring down the building were adding to the challenges.
"Many patients do not want to be treated inside the hospital because they're worried about another quake," Nurwardi said.
"Well, it's not only them, the medics are ... scared of being inside the building too."
It was still unclear how many people - dead or alive - could still be under the debris, as rescuers rushed to find survivors more than three days after the disaster.
At least 18 people have been pulled out of the rubble alive, including a pair of young sisters, according to official data.
Police began using sniffer dogs to help in the search at a badly damaged hospital, as body bags were filled with corpses.
"There are probably some people still trapped under the rubble," search and rescue agency spokesman Yusuf Latif said on Monday.
Mahatir, a relief coordinator for volunteer rescuers, said his team was trying to reach many people in six isolated villages in Majene district after the quake damaged roads and bridges.
Aid and other logistic supplies can be distributed only by foot over the severe terrain, said Mahatir, who goes by one name.
Jati said at least 1,150 houses in Majene were damaged and the agency was still collecting data on damaged houses and buildings in Mamuju.
Mamuju, the provincial capital of nearly 300,000 people, was strewn with debris from collapsed buildings. The governor's office building was almost flattened and a shopping mall was reduced to a crumpled hulk.
The disaster agency said the army corps of engineers cleared the road connecting Mamuju and Majene that had been blocked by landslides. They also rebuilt a damaged bridge.
The disaster agency's chief, Doni Monardo, said authorities were trying to separate high- and lower-risk groups and provided tens of thousands of anti-coronavirus masks for those needing shelters. He said authorities would also set up health posts at the camps to test people for COVID-19.
People being housed in temporary shelters were seen standing close together, many of them without masks, saying that it was difficult to observe health protocols in this emergency situation.
West Sulawesi province has recorded more than 2,500 cases of COVID-19, including 58 deaths. Indonesia has confirmed nearly 908,000 cases and almost 26,000 fatalities.
Many on Sulawesi island are still haunted by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that devastated Palu city in 2018, setting off a tsunami and a phenomenon called liquefaction in which soil collapses into itself.
More than 4,000 people were killed, including many who were buried when whole neighbourhoods were swallowed in the falling ground.
Indonesia, home to more than 260 million people, is lined with seismic faults and is frequently hit by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.
A magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra in 2004 triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.