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Agony And Death Toll Continue To Mount In Indonesia After Earthquake And Tsunami

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The damage is extensive, and the death toll continues to mount around the Indonesian city of Palu. A magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck north of that city Friday, generating a tsunami that barreled into an ocean inlet to the south. Palu is at the end of that inlet.

Government figures quoted in local news media say at least 1,200 people are dead, and that number is expected to rise. And damage to buildings, roads and bridges has been extensive.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Indonesia is still recovering from another earthquake two months ago, and this new disaster is stretching relief capacity. The aid group World Vision is part of both relief efforts. Earlier today, I spoke with World Vision's Margie Siregar. She's in Jakarta, and she told me people in Palu are still seeking higher ground for fear of new tremors.

MARGIE SIREGAR: Right now, I guess people are still evacuating themselves in camps and the high hills in the hilly area because they are still afraid of the next tsunami. You know, the aftershocks still happened, so they are feeling fear whether there is another tsunami coming.

And they're in the shortage of water, food and also emergency shelters. And we found out that there are also several areas that we cannot access yet because there are damaged roads along the way.

SHAPIRO: Have relief teams been able to reach the area?

SIREGAR: Yeah. We had 30 aid staff already in the place before the earthquake happened. And we are providing some public kitchen and children feeding. However, because the airport is still closed because of the damage, they cannot reach in the right time, so they have to go through the southern part of the island called Makassar. And by road, they have to travel around 18 to 24 hours, depending on the vehicle, to reach Palu and affected areas.

SHAPIRO: So if the airport is closed and relief teams need 18 to 24 hours to reach people who are already struggling to get food and water, it seems that things could become much worse very quickly.

SIREGAR: Well, this is the fourth day after the event, but you are right. This is a critical moment, especially for those people that are trapped or in the remaining of the buildings. However, they also tried to reach the area with helicopter, like the army.

But today, because people are starting to get panicked, they closed - the sort of community there closed the airport because they feel they really wanted to get out from the city.

SHAPIRO: Indonesia has had many earthquakes and tsunamis in the past. How does this compare to other disasters that your organization has responded to?

SIREGAR: The issue with this disaster is actually it happened right after the earthquake that affects Lombok Island. And just two months after that, the tsunami and earthquake happened. And in visiting another area, where we have to deploy, again, a separate team to this area, and nothing to this one, makes us very stretched.

SHAPIRO: Margie Siregar, thanks for joining us today.

SIREGAR: Thank you, too. You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: She's humanitarian emergency affairs director with World Vision, speaking with us from Jakarta, Indonesia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.