Tue, 09 May 2000

Death toll in C. Sulawesi earthquake reaches 39

MAKASSAR, South Sulawesi (JP): The intensive search for victims of the strong tectonic earthquake which hit Central Sulawesi last Thursday continued on Monday with the discovery of one more body, bringing the total death toll to 39.

The crisis center in Banggai regency said 36 of the victims were residents of the Banggai islands while four were residents of Luwuk Banggai regency on mainland Central Sulawesi.

However, only 15 of the deceased had been identified, reports said.

Assistant to the South Sulawesi provincial secretary Mahmud Dg Masikki told The Jakarta Post in Makassar that the local administration was trying to cope with the survivors, who are being sheltered in tents.

The death toll is expected to rise as the help of Navy war ships is proving to be effective. The search and rescue team, however, said they found it difficult to locate more quake victims as a total of 148 kilometers of roads and 45 connecting bridges were destroyed.

As the search continues, the local administration is becoming more frustrated as the condition of refugees deteriorates.

"Many of the refugees are suffering from respiratory problems, diarrhea and fever. The inferiority of sanitation system has led to the worsening of their condition," Mahmud said.

Most of the mainland Banggai refugees are now at the Salakang district head's office and at Trikora Square.

Survivors on the Banggai islands are staying at locals posts.

"We are also lacking medicines," Mahmud added.

"Thousands of students are currently absent from school as a total of 237 school buildings were devastated by the quake. We are upset as the final examinations are getting closer," he said.

Fresh tremors which occurred after the strong quake resulted in the residents being afraid to return home.

"They were just small tremors, but the residents were still traumatized," Mahmud said.

Last Thursday's earthquake measured 6.5 on the Richter scale and caused tidal waves of six meters in height to pound the islands of Luwuk and Peleng.

The epicenter of the quake was in the Strait of Peleng, which is 94 kilometers southeast of Luwuk Banggai regency on mainland Central Sulawesi.

Mahmud said the crisis center was expecting help from donors. "Those who want to help can transfer money to Central Sulawesi Bank Pembangunan Daerah, account no. 201.02.00533."

The central government has been criticized for its sluggishness in providing aid to the victims. (27/sur)