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Palu tsunami: mass burials begin amid desperate search for survivors

Reuters / Share:
Volunteers help to transfer bodies of victims at a hospital in Palu in Central Sulawesi province, Indonesia, Sept. 30, 2018. Lack of rescuers and access to stricken areas hampered search and rescue efforts. Xinhua

PALU (Reuters) – Indonesian authorities scrambled yesterday to get aid and rescue equipment into quake-hit Sulawesi island, and prepared mass burials for victims of the tsunami , while the government said it would accept international help for disaster relief.

The confirmed toll of 832 dead looked certain to reach into the thousands as rescuers slowly reached devastated outlying communities hit on Friday by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami waves as high as six metres (20 feet).

Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of several hotels and a mall in the small city of Palu, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta, with hundreds more feared buried in landslides that engulfed villages.

“Grieve for the people of Central Sulawesi, we all grieve together,” President Joko Widodo said on Twitter late on Sunday.

Most of the confirmed deaths were in Palu, a city of 379,000 people, where authorities were preparing a mass grave to bury some of the dead as soon as they were identified.

But, nearly three days after the quake, the extent of the disaster has yet to be made clear with authorities bracing for the death toll to climb sharply – perhaps into the thousands – as connections with remote areas up and down the coast are restored.

Mr Widodo visited a devastated housing complex on Sunday and called for patience.

Footage of the ruined city of Palu showed a crumpled mess of houses, cars and trees mashed together, with rooftops and roads split asunder.

The state energy company said it was airlifting in 4,000 litres of fuel to help with the rescue effort, while the state logistics agency said it was preparing to send hundreds of tonnes of rice.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the government had allocated 560 billion rupiah ($37.58 million) for disaster recovery, media reported.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, told reporters on Sunday none of Indonesia’s tsunami buoys, one type of instrument used to detect the waves, had been operating since 2012. He blamed a fall-off in funding.

The head of Indonesia’s investment board said on Twitter Widodo had agreed to accept international help and he would coordinate private sector help from around the world.

Neighbours including Australia, Thailand and China have offered help while the European Union announced 1.5 million euros ($1.74 million) in immediate aid.

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