PASANGKAYU, Indonesia — The earthquake shook their home so violently that Iffa Elia’s mother and younger sister fell to the floor, and had to crawl out the door to relative safety. Fearful of everything from aftershocks to looting, they knew they had to get out.

But when they arrived at the airport in Palu, one of the two worst-hit cities, they found total chaos. Hundreds of people were pressed against a fence surrounding the runway, screaming to authorities to get them on a plane out of the city. Desperate families tried to hoist children over the metal fence, which eventually gave way.

“They were shouting ‘women only, women only,'” 24-year-old Elia, from the Palu City neighborhood of Birobuli Utara, told The Washington Post. Her mother, unwilling to leave her father, decided to stay in the battered city along with her younger sister – and so Elia had to go it alone.

She gave her name to an Air Force official standing amid the crowd, waving her identity card at him. After several hours, she was called, and stood in line for what she believed was her chance to get out – but two Air Force officials got into a heated argument, she said, and dispersed the line.

“It was just messed up again, and we had to start all over again,” she said.

Three C-130 military transport planes came and went. After seven hours of waiting, Elia finally found a spot on a commercial plane that was being used to deliver supplies, and left to Jakarta – among the lucky few who did.

She is among the many here who believe the government has failed on a multitude of levels: by providing little warning of the impending disasters, particularly the tsunami, then being too slow and disorganized in mobilizing aid and, crucially, failing to keep order afterwards.

Over 1,230 people have now been confirmed dead in twin disasters, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, in Palu city, Donggala region and the surrounding settlements on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Over 61,000 have fled their destroyed homes, scattered across over a hundred locations across the area, and are growing more desperate – setting up makeshift tents, eating fruit from the few trees that still stand and scouring for water – as aid remains scarce.

People are desperate to leave, swarming onto the runway at Palu’s airport on Monday, making it difficult for aircraft to land and hugging the wheels when they try to take off.

Widespread fuel shortages have been reported by multiple aid agencies operating across the region as far south as Mamuju, still a nine hour drive away from Palu city. Cars there were parked at gas stations, left stationary by dry pumps.

Between Donggala and Palu, the “road is lined with people begging for food and water,” said Fatwa Fadillah, program manager for disaster risk reduction at Catholic Relief Services. “They are thirsty and afraid, because they don’t know when they will get reliable access to water.”

On the road to Palu, humanitarian organizations were stopping to rearrange their vehicles in an effort to keep water and fuel hidden, amid reports of robberies on the road. Fuel trucks have been traveling to the region only after nightfall to prevent from being seen and mobbed, and are guarded by police convoys.

The death toll is likely to rise even further, as victims have not been tallied from two housing complexes outside Palu city which were “swept away and swallowed by mud,” according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency. A process of liquefaction, where hard sand and silt take on the characteristics of liquid, becoming muddy and loose, made electrical poles appear like they were “walking,” according to residents, and “moved houses from one area to another.”

Rescue workers have just begun to reach the region of Donggala where some 300,000 people live. The area is still hard to access due to badly damaged roads, and rescuers doing damage assessments say everything on the coast has been damaged and destroyed. On Tuesday, local television broadcasts showed angry residents screaming at Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, to ask for help.

“Pay attention to Donggala, Mr. Jokowi. Pay attention to Donggala,” the resident said.

Nugroho, the disaster agency spokesman, admitted that “not all the needs” of those displaced are well served.

“Everything is still limited – logistics, fuel, tents, mattresses, blankets, clean water, clothing and so on,” he said.

Questions are swirling, particularly among the people of Sulawesi, about their government’s disaster preparedness and ability to respond quickly to crises. Indonesia is in the Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines and volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean. The country has been rocked by earthquakes in recent month, including a major one and strong aftershocks on the island of Lombok that killed almost 600 in August.

On Sunday, the Indonesian president authorized foreign aid, but none had arrived by Tuesday to the region. Over 18 countries have pledged aid and support, including the United States. Teams from the United States Agency for International Development are in Sulawesi conducting assessments, and the U.S. has authorized US$100,000 in initial disaster aid through USAID.

President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters at a news conference Monday at the Rose Garden, said that he had dispatched first responders and the military to help in the aftermath, which he said was “a really bad, bad situation.”

Indonesia’s coordinating minister for security affairs H. Wiranto said the government has asked, in particular, for additional C-130 aircraft that can transport evacuees and aid. Two countries, Singapore and the United States, are readying their military aircraft, he said.

Witnesses say too that more military convoys have been moving into Palu city to deal with looters and stabilize the security situation.

Mahtani reported from Hong Kong. The Washington Post’s Ainur Rohmah in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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