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Indonesia calls off search for victims
October 12, 2018
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PALU: Indonesia on Thursday called off the grim search for those killed in a quake-tsunami, with no hope of retrieving around 5,000 bodies believed to be still buried under the ruins nearly two weeks after the disaster.

The magnitude 7.5 quake and a subsequent tsunami razed swathes of the city of Palu on Sulawesi island on Sept.28.

A total 2,073 bodies had been recovered since the twin disasters, authorities said on Thursday.

But there are fears that 5,000 more could be buried beneath the ruined city, where entire villages were swallowed.

Rescuers had struggled to find remains in the twisted wreckage, a job made worse as mud hardened and bodies decomposed in the tropical heat.

“The search and rescue (SAR) operation for the victims was to end Thursday afternoon,” SAR field director in Palu, Bambang Suryo, told AFP.

“Considering the difficulty on the ground, we really need to consider the health and safety of our rescue personnel.”

Teams would, however, remain on standby in Palu to assist where needed until Oct.26, when a state of emergency is expected to be lifted.

The government earlier indicated that hard-hit areas would be left untouched as mass graves.

Prayers were expected in coming days at three of the worst-hit areas — Balaroa, Petobo and Jono Oge.

Parks and monuments are also eventually planned at these locations to remember the untold thousands of dead who will never be found.

Those zones were all but destroyed by liquefaction, a phenomenon where the brute force of a quake turns soil to quicksand.

At Balaroa, 29-year-old Muhammad Rasidi was coming to terms with the fact his three missing siblings would never be found. “What else can we do? We just have to accept it,” he said.

More than 200,000 people remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance in Palu.

Clean drinking water and medical supplies are still in short supply, and many survivors were entirely reliant on handouts to get by.

“What’s important is that we get support from the government,” said Sapri, who lost 10 members of his family at Balaroa. Many Indonesians go by one name.

Central Sulawesi governor Longki Djanggola said although the search effort was over, survivors would be supported in their time of need.

“I am sure Central Sulawesi will rise again,” he said.

The United Nations has sought $50.5 million for immediate relief to help the victims.

Planeloads of donations have flown into Palu from the United States, Australia, the European Union and the Philippines, among many others.

Nearly 90,000 people were displaced by the disaster, many sheltering in tents outside their destroyed homes.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres will tour the disaster zone with Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Friday.

Humanitarian efforts have accelerated into the disaster-ravaged city, but the recovery effort was criticised for moving too slowly.

Looters ransacked shops in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, as food and water ran dry and convoys bringing life-saving relief were slow to arrive.

Getting vital supplies to the affected areas proved hugely challenging as flights into Palu were limited by its small airport, leaving aid workers facing gruelling overland journeys.

Agence France-Presse

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