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Search for quake victims to end soon

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Bodies are still being recovered

A woman sits on a pile of rubble in an area devastated by an earthquake in the Balaroa neighbourhood of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. Picture: Dita Alangkara/AP

INDONESIAN rescue workers will stop searching for the bodies of victims of an earthquake and tsunami on the island of Sulawesi on Thursday, the national disaster mitigation agency said yesterday.

The announcement came after the official death toll from the 7.5 magnitude quake and a tsunami it triggered late last month rose to 1763.

Bodies are still being recovered, especially from the ruins of buildings in the small city of Palu and from neighbourhoods hit by liquefaction, a phenomenon that turns the ground into a roiling quagmire, in the south of the city.

“Evacuation stops on October 11,” national disaster mitigation agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news briefing, using an Indonesian word that applies to the search and retrieval of both living and dead people.

“Victims who have not been found are declared missing,” he said. Some limited searching might still continue to be undertaken but large-scale searches with many personnel and heavy equipment would cease, he said.

Many hundreds of people are still buried in mud and debris in the south of Palu, where neighbourhoods were obliterated by liquefaction and desperate relatives have been seeking help from the authorities to find their loved ones.

Dozens of rescuers removed 34 bodies from one place on Saturday alone.

Nugroho said the debris would be removed from those places and they would be turned into public spaces like parks and sports venues. Surveys would be carried out and people living in areas vulnerable to liquefaction would be moved.

“We don’t want the community to be relocated to such dangerous places,” he said.

Most of the dead have been found in Palu, the region’s main urban centre.

Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s five main islands and, like the others, is exposed to frequent earthquakes and tsunamis. – Reuters