Indonesia quake death toll nears 2,000 as more bodies are found

Indonesia quake death toll nears 2,000 as more bodies are found

Hopes of finding anyone alive have faded
Hopes of finding anyone alive have faded AFP/MOHD RASFAN

PALU, Indonesia: Nearly 2,000 bodies have been recovered from Palu since an earthquake and tsunami struck the Indonesian city, an official said on Monday (Oct 8), warning the number would rise with thousands still missing.

The death toll from the twin disaster on Sulawesi island that erased whole suburbs in Palu has reached 1,944, said local military spokesman M Thohir.

"That number is expected to rise, because we have not received orders to halt the search for bodies," Thohir, who is also a member of the government's official Palu quake taskforce, told AFP on Monday.

Authorities have said as many as 5,000 are believed missing in two hard-hit areas since the Sep 28 disaster - indicating far more may have perished than the current toll.

READ: ‘I hope the beauty of Palu will be revived’

Hopes of finding anyone alive have faded and the search for survivors amid the wreckage has turned to gathering and accounting for the dead.

The disaster agency said the official search for the unaccounted would continue until Oct 11 at which point they would be listed as missing, presumed dead.

But rescuers called off the search Monday at Hotel Roa-Roa, which was reduced to a tangled mess of twisted rebar and smashed concrete by the force of the quake.

The hotel emerged as an early focus of efforts to extract survivors, with seven people pulled alive from its mangled ruins in the immediate aftermath.

But nobody else was saved as the days passed, and optimism faded as corpses surfaced from the wreckage.

Agus Haryono, another SAR official at the scene who confirmed the search was off, said 27 bodies were recovered from the hotel including three pulled from the debris on Sunday.

Among the confirmed dead were five paragliders in Palu for a competition, including an Asian Games athlete and a South Korean, the only known foreign victim in the disaster.

Authorities believed the 80-room hotel was near capacity when the district was ravaged by a 7.5-magnitude quake and tsunami and estimated 50 to 60 people could be trapped inside.

The disaster agency said the official search for the unaccounted would continue until October 11
The disaster agency said the official search for the unaccounted would continue until October 11 AFP/MOHD RASFAN

The government has said it will declare those communities flattened in Palu as mass graves and leave them untouched.

Balaroa resident Sarjono agreed with sealing off the obliterated neighbourhood where vast numbers of bodies are believed trapped beneath the ruins.

"But only if they help us relocate elsewhere. If they don't, where will we live?" the 50-year-old told AFP near the debris of his former home.

Gopal, whose aunt and uncle are missing, picked through wreckage on Monday knowing just days were left to find his loved ones.

"Even if they (search teams) stop looking, we will still try to find them ourselves," the 40-year-old said in Balaroa, one of the hardest hit neighbourhoods.

"When we can no longer do it ourselves, we leave it to Allah," Gopal, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, added.

Excavators and rescuers combed Balaroa on Monday, where a massive government housing complex was all but swallowed up by the disaster.

Rescuers have struggled to extract decomposing bodies from the tangled mess left behind.

READ: Schools in Indonesia quake city begin counting how many children will be back

Officials say as many as 5,000 people were feared buried at Balaroa and Petobo, another decimated community.

Petobo, a cluster of villages, was subsumed when vibrations from the quake turned soil to quicksand - a process known as liquefaction.

Relief efforts have escalated to assist 200,000 people in desperate need. Food and clean water remain in short supply, and many are dependent entirely on handouts to survive.

Helicopters have been running supply drops to more isolated communities outside Palu, where the full extent of the damage is still not entirely clear.

The Red Cross said Monday it had treated more than 1,800 people at medical clinics and administered first aid to a similar number in the immediate disaster zone.

Indonesia sits along the world's most tectonically active region, and its 260 million people are vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

Source: AFP/mn

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