As fears grow for hundreds still missing after Friday's magnitude 7.4 earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia's Sulawesi, relief agencies are struggling to access some of the worst affected communities
As power remains out in areas around Palu, the capital of central Sulawesi, while landslides have blocked key roads. Other vital infrastructure including the airport in Palu have been badly damaged.
"Access is a huge issue in this humanitarian response. While we still don't know the full scale of the crisis yet, we know it is immense, with catastrophic damage occuring in a number of areas. Large buildings have collapsed; coastal dwellings have effectively been washed away. Hundreds have been killed and, sadly, we expect this to rise considerably," Save the Children's Program Implementation Director, Tom Howells said from Jakarta.
"Aid agencies and local authorities are struggling to reach several communities around Dongala, where we are expecting there to be major damage and potential large-scale loss of life. We hold grave fears for many of the towns in this area."
Save the Children estimates that hundreds of thousands of children are likely to be significantly affected based on population data and calculations of impact. Mr Howells said there were early reports of children being seperated from their families, and warned that extra care and support would need to be paid to children going forward.
"Children have endured an incredibly distressing, and potentially traumatic event, and the emotional toll is made so much worse by the dozens of strong aftershocks that continue to occur. Children may have been separated from their families or they could have lost friends of family members or seen their homes and belongings destroyed. No doubt they'll be wondering if life will ever return to normal," Mr Howells said.
"It is absolutely critical that extra care and attention is paid to children in the coming days, weeks and months, while significant work is done to ensure children are reunited with their families. Children's emotional recovery will need to be an important part of this humanitarian response. It cannot be forgotten."
Save the Children operates through its local partner Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik (YSTC) in Indonesia. A team of humanitarian staff from YSTC are currently travelling by boat from Makassar to the worst affected communities, some 800km away.
"Our staff are working with the government and other agencies to conduct an urgent assessment of affected communities and determine what kind of humanitarian assistance is needed," Mr Howells said.
"We have stockpiles of relief items available for distribution, including plastic sheeting and ropes for temporary shelter, hygiene kits and jerry cans, as well as education supplies to help get children back to school as quickly as possible. However, this response will be made more challenging by the fact we are still responding in Lombok, which was hit by a magnitude 6.9 earthquake in August, as well as a series of strong aftershocks."
Save the Children has been working in Indonesia since 1976, and has a long history responding to humanitarian disasters in the country, including the recent earthquakes in Lombok and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
For interviews, call Jess Brennan on 0421 334 918