Aerial photo showing soil liquefaction; what the earthquake has done to Palu. (Photo by Irwansyah Putra/Antara)

Airport in Disaster-Struck Palu Can Now Operate Around the Clock

BY :JEIS MONTESORI, TELLY NATHALIA & JOY MUCHTAR

OCTOBER 03, 2018

Jakarta/Palu. The authorities have restored instrument navigation services at Mutiara SIS Al-Jufri Airport in Palu, Central Sulawesi, on Tuesday (02/10), allowing flight operations at night, thus increasing the emergency response team's ability to deliver supplies and evacuate victims from the area, which was hit by a major earthquake and tsunami late last week.

Friday's magnitude-7.4 earthquake damaged 500 meters of the airport's 2,500-meter runway, partially destroyed the traffic control tower and knocked out navigation equipment, thereby only allowing for flights operating under visual flight rules, which means aircraft may only take off and land during the day, in clear weather conditions.

State-owned flight navigation service AirNav Indonesia said it has deployed portable navigation equipment and restored ground-to-air radio facilities to allow aircraft to operate under instrument flight rules.

"The runway lights have also been repaired. So now flight service at Palu now operate under instrument flight rules and can operate at night," AirNav Indonesia spokesman Yohanes Sirait said in a statement.

He said the airport can now accommodate up to nine flights per day, which include four military aircraft, four commercial or civilian aircraft, and one backup slot.

Soldiers unload emergency aid for disaster victims from a military aircraft at Mutiara SIS Al-Jufri Airport in Palu on Wednesday. (Reuters Photo/Athit Perawongmetha)

The airport authorities will allow commercial flights between 6. a.m. and 10. p.m., while emergency, search and rescue, and humanitarian flights will have unrestricted access, he said, adding that AirNav has also made eight slots available for helicopter flights.

The improvement in the airport's capacity comes at a crucial time. According to eyewitnesses, truck convoys carrying supplies from Makassar, South Sulawesi, are often forced to stop along the way and looted by bystanders, limiting the amount of aid reaching the affected areas.

Singapore, Malaysia, India, South Korea and the United States, said they would send Lockheed C-130 Hercules cargo planes to assist Indonesia in providing survivors with food, water, tents and other essentials.

Thousands of Palu residents have been flocking to the city's main airport since Saturday in an attempt to evacuate to nearby cities, such as Makassar and Balikpapan in East Kalimantan. However, military flights have so far only been able to carry less than 1,000 evacuees per day, while children, the elderly and those in need of medical attention have priority.

According to a Reuters report, more than 65,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, displacing more than 60,000 people, who are now in dire need of emergency aid.

Rumors Cause Panic

Tight supplies and rumors of further disaster have meanwhile caused panic among survivors.

An aerial photo shows the effect of soil liquefaction, which caused many houses to be completely swallowed by mud, in an area outside Palu. (Antara Photo/Irwansyah Putra)

Last week's earthquake triggered soil liquefaction in Jonooge village, about 10 kilometers inland from Palu, and in Petobo village in the Central Sulawesi capital, burying hundreds of houses under thick sediment.

Rescue workers fear that thousands of victims, including 200 youths who were attending a bible camp in Jonoge, may still be buried under rubble and mud. The soil liquefaction that occurred also triggered rumors that the city would eventually sink completely.

"Residents are consumed by the issue that Palu will sink, triggering them to leave," said Ruslan Sangadji, a volunteer worker.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) announced on Tuesday that the official death toll had risen to more than 1,200.

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