Search for victims of Indonesia disaster extended; three dead in Java quake

A man gestures towards a search and rescue team while looking for victims in the earthquake and liquefaction affected Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesia on Thursday extended for a day the search for victims of a 7.5 magnitude quake and tsunami on Sulawesi island at the request of relatives of the many still missing, the national disaster mitigation agency said.

Some 10,000 rescuers toiled on what would have been the final day of searching the ruins of the seaside city of Palu, hit on Sept. 28 by the double disaster, as relatives hoped their loved ones could be found and given a proper burial.

But a spokesman for the disaster agency told a briefing in Jakarta the search would go on until Friday evening.

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

If any reminder were needed of Indonesia’s treacherous tectonics, a magnitude 6 quake struck off Java and Bali islands early on Thursday, killing three people in Java, damaging buildings and sparking panic.


The annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are being held this week on Bali and attended by more than 19,000 delegates and other guests, including ministers, central bank heads and some country leaders.

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

“I don’t have any tears left, all I want is to find them,” said Ahmad, 43, a farmer who was waiting near a pile of debris that used to be his home in Palu’s Balaroa neighborhood.

His wife and two daughters are missing in the ruins.

Balaroa and other Palu neighborhoods were devastated by liquefaction, which happens when a quake shakes soft, damp soil, turning it into a viscous, roiling liquid.

Ahmad’s third daughter was badly injured and has been taken to the city of Makassar for treatment.

“She’s all I have left. Everything I own, everyone else, is gone,” he said.


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 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.”

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


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