Indonesia extends quake and tsunami search operation

Search to end on Friday evening, two weeks after the double disasters hit the Southeast Asian country.

Indonesia has extended by a day its search for victims of a magnitude 7.5 quake and tsunami on Sulawesi Island at the request of relatives of the many still missing.

A spokesperson for Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency on Thursday said the search would go on until Friday evening, two weeks after the double disasters hit the Southeast Asian country.

“The national search and rescue agency will handover its task to the Palu city search and rescue agency and they will continue the work,” National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Nugroho said.

Some 10,000 rescuers toiled on what would have been the final day of searching the ruins of the seaside city of Palu, as relatives kept hoping their loved ones could be found and given a proper burial.

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The official death toll was raised to 2,073. No one knows how many people are yet to be found in Palu’s ruined neighbourhoods, but it could be as many as 5,000, the disaster agency said.

A magnitude 6 quake off Java and Bali islands early on Thursday added to the crisis, killing three people, damaging buildings and sparking panic.

In Palu, on the west coast of Sulawesi, hundreds of kilometres northeast of Bali, survivors waited for news by the debris that has entombed their relatives as workers in orange hard hats and excavators worked.

“In these conditions, we realise it is very difficult to get all the bodies out; but we expect our family members to be found but they haven’t so the government needs to give us a solution,” Mursyid Hussein, a Palu resident told Al Jazeera.

“Are they going to ask our permission before they convert this into a mass graveyard?” he added. 




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‘Very little hope’ 

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 the 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,” he said.

Nur Alam Shah, a military search and rescue worker, said he was prepared to stay for as long as he was needed.

“But it’s tough now. It’s been too long – the bodies are no longer intact. At most we can find maybe a skull, or some bone fragments,” he said.

The government has said it needs to call off the search for bodies – because of concern about the spread of disease – and begin to focus on the next phase, which is rebuilding.

Nearly 88,000 people were displaced and many are living in crude shelters in the hills around Palu. The government is seeking 10,000 tents to help house the displaced.



A man gestures towards a rescue team while looking for victims in Palu [Darren Whiteside/Reuters]

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