Sulawesi earthquake victims over 1,200, almost 60 thousand displaced
by Mathias Hariyadi

Thousands of people still struggling to escape from the affected areas. In the Palu area, over 2,400 homes have been swallowed up by the earth. The bodies of 34 young theology students recovered form a church overwhelmed by a landslide. Solidarity and prayers from the archdiocese of Seoul.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - While the controversy over the failure of tsunami warning systems mounts, the number of victims of the devastating earthquakes that hit Sulawesi on September 28 continues to rise. The latest bulletin from the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) updates the established deaths to 1,234. The injured are about 700 and the missing 99. The displaced are almost 60 thousand and thousands of people are still struggling to escape from the affected areas, where they lack food and basic necessities.

Experts have harsh criticism of the state disaster prevention machine. Saut Situmorang, Deputy Director of the Anti-Corruption Commission (Kpk), underlined the malfunction of the tsunami preventive warning systems provided to government agencies and announced investigations. The House of Representatives will convene the heads of the Agency of Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (Bmkg) to clarify the revocation of the tsunami pre-alarm, ordered a few minutes after the first shock and before waves up to 3 meters high crashed  into the coast.

The Indonesian president, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo (photo 1), has increased efforts in the rescue operations. During the cabinet meeting, held this morning in the presidential palace, Widodo ordered government agency officials to "reach all the missing and immediately provide for their evacuation".

Electricity still needs to be restored to a large part of the territory and access by land to remote villages is prevented by broken roads, landslides and collapsed bridges. Gen. Wiranto, minister in charge of coordinating the government's response to the emergency, said that only yesterday between 3,000 and 5,000 people asked to be allowed to get on military aircraft to be evacuated; the crowd was such that, for a few hours, the flights could not take off from the runways of Palu airport, still closed to commercial flights.

The first earthquake of September 28, magnitude 7.4, led to the "liquefaction" of large portions of the territory between the cities of Donggala and Palu (Central Sulawesi). This is a phenomenon in which, during an earthquake, sand and silt take on the characteristics of a liquid, causing sudden avalanches of mud and building collapses.

The BNPB states that in Balaroa (photo 2), Palu district, about 1,700 houses were swallowed up. In satellite images of the Petobo district (photo 3), south of Palu airport, 744 housing units have disappeared.

In the district of Siri Biromaru, the Red Cross rescue teams have recovered the bodies of 34 young students of theology, in a Protestant church overwhelmed by a landslide. At the time of the tragedy, the Jonooge church housed 86 young people gathered for a Bible study seminar.

At the moment, at least 18 countries, both Asian and Western, have responded to the Indonesian government's request for help. Through the local Caritas, the Catholic community is also involved in field rescue.

After the prayers of Pope Francis, the condolences and economic support of the South Korean Catholics are also reaching the Indonesian Church. Card. Andrew Yeom Soo-jung (photo 4), Archbishop of Seoul, this morning sent a message to the Indonesian Bishops' Conference (Kwi). The prelate assures his prayers "for the eternal repose of the dead, the consolation and blessing of God for those who have suddenly lost their beloved family."

"I, as well as all the priests and faithful of the archdiocese of Seoul - the note continues - will pray that all the people of Indonesia can overcome the tragic disaster and return as quickly as possible to daily life. "

A fundraiser for the victims of the earthquakes in Lombok has been launched by the archdiocese of Seoul which has also made a donation to the tune of  50 thousand US dollars, which will be delivered to the Indonesian Church by Caritas International.