Indonesia quake: 34 students killed at church, 52 missing, says Red Cross

Indonesia quake: 34 students killed at church, 52 missing, says Red Cross

A man walks on a street after an earthquake and tsunami hit the area in Wani
A man walks on a street after an earthquake and tsunami hit the area in Wani, Donggala, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 1, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Muhammad Adimaja/ via REUTERS

PALU, Indonesia: Indonesian rescue workers have discovered the bodies of 34 students killed when a mudslide caused by Friday's quake on Sulawesi island engulfed their church, a local rescue official said on Tuesday (Oct 2).

"A total of 34 bodies were found by the team," Indonesia Red Cross spokeswoman Aulia Arriani told AFP, adding that 86 students had initially been reported missing from a Bible study camp at the Jonooge Church Training Centre in Sigi Biromaru district.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation but there are small pockets of religious minorities, including Christians, across the archipelago.

READ: Another two quakes hit off Indonesian island of Sumba on Tuesday

Arriani said rescuers faced an arduous trek to reach the mudslide and retrieve the victims.

"The most challenging problem is travelling in the mud as much as 1.5 hours by foot while carrying the bodies to an ambulance," she said.

Central Sulawesi was devastated by a quake and tsunami on Friday evening, killing at least 844
Central Sulawesi was devastated by a quake and tsunami on Friday (Sep 28) evening, killing at least 844 people. (Photo: AFP/Adek Berry)

The discovery adds to the already-high death toll from Friday's disaster, when a powerful earthquake sent a devastating tsunami smashing into the seaside city of Palu.

At least 844 people are already known to have died, but officials say that number is certain to rise - perhaps into the thousands - as isolated communities are reached and the scale of the disaster becomes clearer.

Mountainous Sigi Biromaru district is one of those more remote regions, lying to the southeast of Palu city.

Survivors are battling thirst and hunger, with food and clean water in short supply, and local hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of injured.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by a lack of heavy machinery, severed transport links and the scale of the damage.

People drive past a washed up boat and collapsed buildings in Palu
People drive past a washed up boat and collapsed buildings in Palu. (Photo: AFP/Jewel Samad)

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The Indonesian military is leading the rescue effort, but following an appeal for international help by the president, NGOs also have teams on the ground in Palu.

URGENT NEED

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned on Monday that there were 191,000 people in urgent need of help after the quake-tsunami, among them 46,000 children and 14,000 elderly - many in areas that aren't the focus of government recovery efforts.

The dead - many yet uncounted, their bodies still trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings - are also a source of concern for authorities.

In Indonesia's hot, equatorial climate, bodies quickly begin to rot and provide a breeding ground for fatal diseases.

Many survivors have spent the last days desperately searching for loved ones while dealing with the
Many survivors have spent the last days desperately searching for loved ones while dealing with the trauma of the disaster. (Photo: AFP/Jewel Samad)

READ: Desperate Indonesians flee quake zone, with scale of disaster unknown

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At Poboya - in the hills above the devastated seaside city of Palu - volunteers have begun to fill a vast grave with the dead, with instructions to prepare for 1,300 victims to be laid to rest.

Trucks stacked with corpses wrapped in orange, yellow and black bags are bringing their load to the site, where the corpses are dragged into the grave as excavators pour soil on top.

"I LOST HER"

In Balaroa, a Palu suburb once home to a housing complex, flattened trees, shards of concrete, twisted metal roofing, door frames and mangled furniture stretched out into the distance.

Dazed groups of people ambled over the wreckage, unclear where or how to start digging. Among them were three men looking for their younger brother.

Images of the aftermath showed major ports, bridges and quays had been destroyed
Images of the aftermath showed major ports, bridges and quays had been destroyed. Photo: AFP/Jewel Samad)

Rescuers are racing against the clock and a lack of equipment to save those still trapped in the rubble, with up to 60 people feared to be underneath one Palu hotel alone.

Two people have been plucked from the 80-room Hotel Roa-Roa, Indonesia's search and rescue agency said, and there could still be more alive.

READ: Perfect storm of factors behind Indonesian quake-tsunami

Desperate survivors have turned to looting shops for basics like food, water and fuel as police look on, unwilling or unable to intervene.

"The government, the President have come here, but what we really need is food and water." Burhanuddin Aid Masse, 48, told AFP.

Many survivors have spent the last days desperately searching for loved ones while dealing with the trauma of the disaster.

Evidence of the sheer power of the disaster that was unleashed on northern Sulawesi is everywhere
Evidence of the sheer power of the disaster that was unleashed on northern Sulawesi is everywhere. (Photo: AFP/Jewel Samad)

One survivor, Adi, was hugging his wife by the beach when the tsunami struck on Friday. He has no idea where she is now, or whether she is alive.

"When the wave came, I lost her," he said. "I was carried about 50 metres. I couldn't hold anything," he said.

Others have centred their search for loved ones around open-air morgues, where the dead lay in the baking sun - waiting to be claimed, waiting to be named.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was working to reunite families who had become separated during the disaster and was providing "forensic services" to those carrying out the grim task of identifying victims.

Source: AFP/mn/cy

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