Fri, Oct 12, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Last day of search for Sulawesi victims

ON TO REBUILDING:Data on the destruction is being compiled and mapping done so that areas hit by liquefaction can be turned into parks, sports fields and memorials

Reuters, PALU, Indonesia

A man gestures toward a search-and-rescue team while looking for victims of an earthquake in the Balaroa neighborhood of Palu, Indonesia, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Rescue workers yesterday scoured the rubble of devastated communities on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, the final day of the search for victims of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 2,000 people two weeks ago.

If any reminder were needed of Indonesia’s treacherous tectonics, a magnitude 6 earthquake struck off Java and Bali islands early yesterday, killing three people in Java, damaging buildings and sparking panic.

The annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank are being held this week on Bali and attended by more than 19,000 delegates and other guests, including ministers, central bank governors and some national leaders.

On the west coast of Sulawesi, hundreds of kilometers northeast of Bali, the official death toll from the earthquake and tsunami that struck the seaside city of Palu on Sept. 28 stood at 2,045.

About 10,000 rescuers toiled for a final day as relatives of the missing clung to their last hopes that the bodies of their loved ones could be found and given a proper burial.

“I don’t have any tears left, all I want is to find them,” said Ahmad, 43, a farmer who was waiting near a pile of debris that used to be his home in Palu’s Balaroa neighborhood.

His wife and two daughters are missing in the ruins.

Balaroa and other Palu neighborhoods were devastated by liquefaction, which happens when a earthquake shakes soft, damp soil, turning it into a viscous, roiling liquid.

Ahmad’s third daughter was badly injured and has been taken to the city of Makassar for treatment.

“She’s all I have left. Everything I own, everyone else, is gone,” he said.

No one knows how many people have yet to be found in Balaroa and other neighborhoods, but it could be as many as 5,000, the national disaster mitigation agency said.

Rescue teams are working with residents to try to identify where victims could be, but it is mostly guesswork because of how far the ground moved during liquefaction.

“We hope the families understand that there’s very little hope at this point,” search volunteer Hadrianos Poliamar said. “At the same time, if they ask us to help, if they’re pointing ‘please look here, my family is under here,’ of course, we can’t say ‘no,’ we have to dig. We want to help as many as we can.”

The government called off the search for bodies from today, citing concern about the spread of disease, and is beginning to focus its efforts on the next phase — rebuilding.

Data on the destruction is being compiled and mapping done to help determine where new houses should be built.

The danger of tsunamis near the coast in the north of the Palu and of soil liquefaction in the south are the major worries.

Areas hit by liquefaction would be turned into parks, sports fields and memorials.

Nofal Surya, 37, lost 15 members of his extended family in Balaroa.

The bodies of only seven have been found.

“If I follow my heart, of course I want the search to keep going, but I think I have to accept that I may never find them,” he said.

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