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Indonesia's Sulawesi Reels From Earthquake And Tsunami


A bit of geography now. The tsunami off Indonesia last weekend washed into a long, narrow bay. That bay acted like a water pipe, channeling the waves toward a city at the end. And that city, Palu, is the scene of some of the worst destruction. More than 1,200 people are confirmed dead across the island of Sulawesi. James Massola of The Sydney Morning Herald is in Palu, and I spoke with him earlier this morning.

James, it's been four days since the earthquake and tsunami. Can you just give us a sense of what the situation is right now?

JAMES MASSOLA: OK. So at the moment, the death toll is 1,234 people. There are 800 injured. There's 61,000 or so refugees, 65,000 homes that have been destroyed. There are thousands of people both who have lost their homes and who are also dying to go back into their homes even though they weren't destroyed. They're sleeping at a makeshift refugee camp outside the governor's house, like on the lawn outside the mayor's residence. There's not enough food. There's a shortage of (unintelligible). Water seems to be unreasonably - unreasonable to buy.

MARTIN: People are sleeping in makeshift tents. There's not enough food.


MARTIN: Are there any structures that are still standing?

MASSOLA: There are definitely structures that are still standing, but it really depends where you go. Along the beachfront where we were this morning, you got a bit of - kilometers of buildings that are just gone. In other parts further back from the ocean, where the ground has essentially liquified, you know, whole houses have (unintelligible) as well. But where we are - you know, we're in the center of Palu about five kilometers from the beach. There are lots of houses, although they're all damaged. There are lots of houses (unintelligible).

MARTIN: You've been out, I understand, with rescue teams. What have you seen?

MASSOLA: Absolute devastation. I spent the morning with a rescue team. We were pulling out dead bodies out of shops and houses out on the beachfront where the tsunami burst and hit harder.

MARTIN: How are the - I mean, how is the government responding? Do they have the resources to be doing this kind of relief effort, recovery effort?

MASSOLA: No. If it was an isolated incident, maybe. But there was a massive earthquake in Lombok about a thousand miles away seven weeks ago, and a lot of the resources are there. So Malaysia, Australia, United States and China - they're starting to send in resources to help. That'll be in a couple of days time. But at the moment, it's really a local response. There's about 6,000 people - volunteers, police and army - here, at least 60,000 refugees. It's a terrible situation, frankly.

MARTIN: OK. We are going to keep on top of this story. It's - obviously the death toll is expected to rise. James Massola with The Sydney Morning Herald there in Palu, the epicenter of where this tsunami hit in Indonesia. James, thank you so much for your reporting on this. We appreciate it.

MASSOLA: Of course. Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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