Search called off in Sulawesi for victims of Indonesian quake and tsunami

Search called off in Sulawesi for victims of Indonesian quake and tsunami
Indonesian soldiers carry a dead body from the debris at Perumnas Balaroa village in Palu, in Central Sulawesi on October 6, 2018, following the September 28 earthquake and tsunami.
PHOTO: AFP

PALU, Indonesia - Indonesian authorities on Thursday (Oct 11) called off the search for thousands still believed missing since a powerful 7.4-magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated Palu city in Sulawesi island a fortnight ago.

"The search and rescue (SAR) operation for the victims will end this Thursday afternoon," SAR field director in Palu, Bambang Suryo, told AFP.

On the west coast of Sulawesi, the official death toll from the Sept 28 earthquake and tsunami stood at 2,045.

Some 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 home in Palu's Balaroa neighbourhood. His wife and two daughters are missing in the ruins.

Balaroa and other Palu neighbourhoods were devastated by liquefaction, which happens when a quake 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.

Scores killed in Indonesia quake, tsunami

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    Earthquake survivors in Palu, Central Sulawesi, crowd Mutiara Sis Al Jufri Airport in Palu in a desperate attempt to leave the devastated area on Monday.

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    A combination of satellite images shows Palu, Indonesia on September 22, 2018 (L) and on October 1, 2018.

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    A combination of satellite images shows Palu, Indonesia on September 22, 2018 (L) and on October 1, 2018.

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    In the wake of mass destruction caused by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami, survivors in Palu and Donggala in Central Sulawesi have been scrambling to salvage food supplies and other items, as aid from the central government began to trickle into the region.

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    An aerial view of an area devestated by an earthquake in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 1, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.

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    Local residents affected by the earthquake and tsunami retrieve gasoline at a gas station in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

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    This handout from Indonesia's National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) taken on September 29, 2018 shows an aerial view of Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi, after an earthquake and tsunami hit the area on September 28.

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    Scores of people were killed when a powerful quake and tsunami struck central Indonesia, an AFP photographer at the scene said on Saturday (Sept 29), as rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region.

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    Photographs from Palu, home to around 350,000 on the coast of Sulawesi island, showed partially covered bodies on the ground near the shore, the morning after tsunami waves as high as 1.5 metres slammed into the city.

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    A satellite image shows Palu, Indonesia on October 1, 2018.

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    The tsunami was triggered by a strong quake that brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground as a churning wall of water crashed into Palu.

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    People living hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre reported feeling the massive shake, hours after a smaller jolt killed at least one person in the same part of the South-east Asian archipelago.

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    The quake hit just off central Sulawesi at a depth of 10 kilometres just before 6pm local time, the US Geological Survey said. Such shallow quakes tend to be more destructive.

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    Search and rescue teams have been dispatched to hard-hit areas

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    A 10-storey hotel in Palu in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi collapsed following a strong earthquake in the area.

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    As shattered survivors scoured make-shift morgues for loved ones, and authorities struggled to dig out the living or assess the scale of the devastation beyond the city of Palu, grim warnings came that the eventual toll could reach thousands.

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    Rescuers on Sulawesi island raced 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.

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

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    Still, as dire as the situation in Palu was, it was at least clear. In outlying areas, the fate of thousands is still unknown.

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    Desperate survivors, now facing a third straight night sleeping outdoors, turned to looting shops for basics like food, water and fuel as police looked on, unwilling or unable to intervene.

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'HAVE TO DIG'

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

Rescue teams are working with residents to try to identify where victims could be. However, 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," said search volunteer Hadrianos Poliamar.

"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 has called off the search for bodies from Thursday, citing concern about the spread of disease, and is beginning to focus 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 will be turned into parks and 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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