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Recovery Efforts Continue In Indonesia As Many Wait For Aid


The cries for help are growing in Indonesia where, days after a massive earthquake and tsunami, many are still waiting for aid. When an 18-foot-high wall of water swept over coastal communities last Friday, tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. Communications are spotty at best, and some of the hardest hit areas are proving difficult to reach. NPR's Julie McCarthy has just arrived in Palu. This is one of the cities on Sulawesi that bore the brunt of Friday's earthquake. She is with us now.

Julie, as I just said, you've just got to Palu. Give us a sense of what you're seeing.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, as you come into the place, you're really struck by the - I wouldn't say violence or unrest but the desperation in people. Lining the roads are small children. And they're chasing you, and they're asking for food. And they're holding up signs that say, we also need food. We, too, need food. There's a sense that Palu is getting more of the attention than some of the other areas like Dongala, which has been very, very badly hit. And it's still being explored as to the extent of the damage there.

But you approach this and you see, obviously, you know, the marks of destruction along the coast. The houses are destroyed on both sides of the road. And then as you move into Palu, you see along the bay just nothing but houses that have been snapped like twigs. You see cement homes that are leaning into the bay. And every part of human existence is strewn among the debris, so you know something very powerful came through here.

MARTIN: Have you had a chance to talk with survivors yet?

MCCARTHY: You know, I did. And I - of course, you ask them, what was that like? And generally, they look at you and they say, we were just panicked, and there was no time to act. In fact, one man said, I - my senses just went blank. And I turned and I felt the quake. And I turned - and almost immediately, he said, he saw a wall of water. And he said, you may think we sound selfish or I sound selfish to say this, but all I could think of was to run. I didn't even think of how I was going to save my father in this disaster.

And his father, indeed, has perished. His house is gone, and his livelihood is gone. And he goes and he sits there with his friends. And they figure out how they're going to rebuild their lives. These were people who lived along the beach. You know, they had cafes along the beach.


MCCARTHY: And now they have absolutely nothing. And they go from area to area trying to find food and water.

MARTIN: How are they coping with that? I mean, is aid getting through to these people who need it most?

MCCARTHY: Well, aid is slowly making its way into this devastated region. The central government is putting a priority, it says, on transportation and waste treatment and tents and generators. You know, there seems to be a disconnect. You see this disconnect where the government will talk about how it has reached out to the international community and that they are responding. And a lot of international communities will say yes, but we're burdened by a bureaucracy. And in some cases, we have not been invited. But the Hercules transports - the own Indonesians - are flying twice a day carrying food and clothes and volunteers.

MARTIN: NPR's Julie McCarthy speaking to us from the city of Palu on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Thanks so much, Julie.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.