At mass grave above Indonesian city, many questions linger

Howard TerryOct 11, 2018

A coastal strip dotted with villages north of the devastated city of Palu was cut off for almost a week by landslides blocking its single road link after the major 7.5 magnitude quake struck late in the afternoon on September 28.

But perhaps more deadly was soil liquefaction which obliterated several Palu neighborhoods. Many hundreds of people are now entombed in slowly drying mud churned with heaps of debris and vehicles.

Officially, Nugroho said only 265 people are confirmed missing and 152 others still buried under mud and rubble, nine days after the magnitude 7.5 quake and powerful tsunami hit Palu and surrounding areas.

Bodies were still being removed from the other worst affected areas, such as the village of Petobo - about 7 km southeast of Palu - and Balaroa, where NGO workers estimated that over 1,000 people could still be buried. They are all missing.

The national disaster agency said Friday that the confirmed death toll rose slightly to 1,571.

"They were found in front of my brother's house opposite the mosque", Rahman said. Surveys would be carried out and people living in vulnerable places would be moved.

"We don't want the community to be relocated to such risky places", he said.

"Most of the bodies we have found are not intact, and that poses a danger for the rescuers". Figures for more remote areas, some just re-connected to the outside world by road, are trickling in.

Hasnah, 44, also a resident of Petobo, has trouble remembering all of the relatives she's trying to find in the tangled expanse of mud and debris.

"We don't agree with giving up". "If there are bodies in the spaces, we'll extract them".

Mohammad Irfan, 25, got home to Palu on Sunday, as air services picked up, from his job on Bali island, to help search for his missing grandfather. Officials have said that it is not safe for heavy equipment to operate in those areas and that they fear the risk of the spread of disease from decomposed bodies.

"What's the point anyway?"

"There was a palpable sense of relief from the evacuees when they got into our Herc", Flight Lieutenant Dave Natapu, aircraft captain from RNZAF No 40 Squadron, said.

Udrekh, a disaster expert at Indonesia's Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), said Indonesia is discussing with Japan whether to invest in seabed cables with sensors that could detect tsunami and earthquakes, similar to a system in Japan.

"I don't want her to feel like her father never tried to find her".

The government has been considering declaring those communities flattened in Palu as mass graves, and leaving them untouched.

While aid is finally reaching isolated communities in Indonesia, many Indonesians in Canada are finally finding out the fate of their family members in the disaster zone.

Sulawesi is one of the archipelago nation's five main islands, and like the others, is exposed to frequent earthquakes and tsunami.

Almost a week after a magnitude 7.5 quake spawned a deadly tsunami on Indonesia's island of Sulawesi, countless people have yet to find their loved ones _ both survivors and the dead.

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