Natural disasters: Earthquakes

Search called off for Sulawesi disaster victims

Indonesian search and rescue personnel working on the final day of recovery operations at Balaroa village in Palu on Oct 11, 2018.
Indonesian search and rescue personnel working on the final day of recovery operations at Balaroa village in Palu on Oct 11, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

PALU (Indonesia) • The Indonesian authorities yesterday called off the search for thousands of people still believed to be missing since a magnitude-7.4 earthquake and tsunami devastated Palu city in Sulawesi island a fortnight ago.

The field director for the search and rescue in Palu, Mr Bambang Suryo, said the operation was scheduled to end yesterday afternoon.

Some 10,000 rescuers toiled for a final day as relatives of the missing clung to their last hopes that the bodies of their loved ones could be found and given a proper burial.

"I don't have any tears left, all I want is to find them," said farmer Ahmad, 43, who was waiting near a pile of debris that used to be his home in Palu's Balaroa neighbourhood. His wife and two daughters are missing in the ruins.

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

Mr 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.

The official death toll from the Sept 28 quake and tsunami on Sulawesi's west coast stood at 2,045.

 
 

No one knows how many people are yet to be found but it could be as many as 5,000, the national disaster mitigation agency 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 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."

 

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2018, with the headline 'Search called off for Sulawesi disaster victims'. Print Edition | Subscribe