The extent of damage in Palu's Petobo village. (Antara Photo/Muhammad Adimaja)

Damage From Central Sulawesi Disaster Estimated at More Than $650m


OCTOBER 04, 2018

Jakarta. Officials estimate that the total losses from last week's earthquake and tsunami in Central Sulawesi will likely surpass $658 million, making it one of the costliest disasters to have hit Indonesia in the past five years.

The magnitude-7.4 earthquake and 3-meter tsunami that hit Palu, Donggala and Sigi have either crippled or destroyed crucial infrastructure, including Palu's iconic Ponulele Bridge, the first arch bridge in Indonesia.

More than 65,000 houses, hotels and public building were damaged or destroyed. State-owned utility and telecommunication companies have had to spend millions of dollars to replace damaged equipment and infrastructure to restore electricity and communications.

Most of the province's $8.8 billion economy has also ground to a halt in the past six days with prospects of a recovery uncertain.

"We will conduct a quick estimate of the damage and losses from the disaster… the BNPB is still compiling the data. But if we are to compare with what happened in Lombok, we have an estimate of more than Rp 10 trillion [$658 million]," National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said in Jakarta on Thursday (04/10).

The agency's latest estimate puts the losses from the recent Lombok earthquake at Rp 7.5 trillion.

The Association of Indonesian Retailers (Aprindo) said earlier that its members in Palu suffered losses of at least Rp 450 billion due to destroyed buildings and looting.

However, Bank Indonesia Governor Perry Warjiyo played down the impact of the Central Sulawesi and Lombok disasters on Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

"This is a really challenging and difficult time for Indonesia and for all of us, but we are united and we stand strong," he said at the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club late on Wednesday.

Thick Mud

The official death toll in the earthquake and tsunami currently stands at 1,424. The latest data from the BNPB shows that 2,549 people were seriously injured, while 113 are reported missing and 152 are known to still be trapped under rubble.

However, the BNPB said at least 1,000 people may still be buried under rubble and mud in areas affected by soil liquefaction, which occurred during the earthquake, and that efforts to recover the bodies continue to face major challenges, five days after the disaster struck.

"We're not yet able to identify affected residents but based on reports we have received from the village heads in Balaroa and Petobo alone, we estimate that there may be more than 1,000 [victims], but this is still an estimate," Sutopo said.

Damage caused by soil liquefaction in Petobo village, South Palu. (Antara Photo/Muhammad Adimaja)[/

According to Sutopo, damp soil in several locations hampers search and rescue efforts, as it takes considerable effort to dig through the mud to recover bodies.

"It's still difficult, because [the victims] are buried in mud nearly 3 meters deep," Sutopo said.

Search and rescue teams have yet to access four subdistricts in Sigi – Lindu, Kulawi, South Kulawi and Titikor – because of landslides or damaged roads.

The severe damage caused by soil liquefaction and land subsidence has prompted the government to consider relocating residents to a safer area.

While soil liquefaction has been observed during several previous earthquakes in the country, such as in Padang in 2009 and recently in Lombok, the phenomenon did not have as much of an impact as in Central Sulawesi.

"When we reach the rehabilitation and reconstruction process, we have to guarantee that it will be better and safer, including reorganizing the city layout by taking into account the possible effects of earthquakes," Sutopo said.

Additional reporting by Reuters