Mon, Oct 08, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Indonesia death toll could soar as 5,000 still missing

AFP, PALU, Indonesia

People yesterday walk on a broken bridge in Palu, Indonesia, after it was last week hit by an earthquake and tsunami.

Photo: Reuters

The number of people believed to be missing from the quake and tsunami that struck Indonesia’s Palu City has soared to 5,000, an official said yesterday, an indication that far more might have perished in the twin disaster than the current toll.

Indonesian National Disaster Management Authority said that it had recovered 1,763 bodies from the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Sulawesi on Sept. 28.

However, there are fears that two of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in Palu — Petobo and Balaroa — could contain thousands more victims, swallowed up by ground that engulfed whole communities in a process known as liquefaction.

“Based on reports from the [village] heads of Balaroa and Petobo, there are about 5,000 people who have not been found,” agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told reporters yesterday. “Nevertheless, officials there are still trying to confirm this and are gathering data. It is not easy to obtain the exact number of those trapped by landslides, or liquefaction or mud.”

Nugroho said the search for the unaccounted would continue until Thursday, at which point they would be listed as missing and presumed dead.

The figure drastically increases the estimates for those who disappeared when the disaster struck 10 days ago.

Officials initially predicted that about 1,000 people were buried beneath the ruins of Palu.

However, the latest tally speaks to the considerable destruction in the worst-hit areas of Petobo and Balaroa as the picture on the ground has become clearer.

Petobo, a cluster of villages in Palu, was virtually wiped out by the powerful quake and wall of water that devastated Palu.

Much of it was sucked whole into the ground as the vibrations from the quake turned soil to quicksand. It was feared that beneath the crumbled rooftops and twisted rebar, a vast number of bodies remain entombed.

In Balaroa, a massive government housing complex was also subsumed by the quake and rescuers have struggled to extract bodies from the tangled mess in the aftermath of the disaster.

The government has been considering declaring those communities flattened in the disaster as mass graves and leaving them untouched. Hopes of finding anyone alive have faded as the search for survivors morphs into a grim gathering and accounting of the dead.

“This is day 10. It would be a miracle to actually find someone still alive,” Indonesian National Agency of Search and Rescue head Muhammad Syaugi said yesterday.

The grim news comes as relief efforts were ramped up to reach 200,000 people in desperate need of help after days of delays.

Looters ransacked shops in the aftermath of the disaster as food and water ran dry and convoys bringing life-saving relief were slow to arrive, but the trickle of international aid to Palu and local efforts to help the survivors have accelerated over the past few days.

Planeloads of supplies were landing with increasing frequency in Palu, where daisy chains of troops unloaded supplies directly onto trucks or helicopters.

More than 82,000 military and civilian personnel, as well as volunteers, were on the ground, while Indonesian army helicopters were undertaking supply runs to remote areas blocked off by the disaster.

Hercules planes carrying tonnes of donations from Australia and the US reached Palu yesterday morning, as did a plane chartered by Save the Children and another carrying a South African medical team.

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