Anger, dismay as Indonesia says search for quake victims to end Thursday

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Relatives of hundreds of people missing after an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia reacted with anger, sadness and resignation on Sunday to a decision by the state disaster agency to end searches for bodies later this week.

The official death toll from the September 28 disaster rose to 1,763. Bodies are still being recovered from the ruins of buildings in the small city of Palu and from neighborhoods hit by liquefaction, a phenomenon that turns the ground into a roiling quagmire, in the south of city.

The 7.5 magnitude quake brought down shopping malls, hotels and other buildings in the city of Palu, while tsunami waves smashed into its beachfront. But perhaps more deadly was soil liquefaction which obliterated several Palu neighborhoods.

No one knows how many people are missing but it is at least in the hundreds, rescuers say. The national disaster mitigation agency said on Sunday said the search for survivors will end this Thursday.

“Many of us are angry that we haven’t found our families and friends and they want to give up?” said Hajah Ikaya, 60, who says she lost her sister, brother-in-law and niece in the Balaroa neighborhood in the south of the city. They are all missing.

Balaroa was one of areas particularly hard hit by liquefaction, which turns the ground into a roiling quagmire, destroying houses and dragging people under the mud and debris.

The disaster agency said earlier liquefaction destroyed 1,700 houses in one neighborhood alone with hundreds of people buried in the mud.

“We’re Muslim. We need a proper burial, in the Islamic way,” said Ikaya. “We don’t want this.”

Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a briefing in Jakarta some limited searching might continue but large-scale searches with many personnel and heavy equipment would cease on Thursday.

Debris would be cleared and areas hit by liquefaction would be turned into parks and sports venues. Surveys would be carried out and people living in vulnerable places would be moved.

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

Most of the dead from the quake and tsunami were in Palu, the region’s main urban center. Figures for more remote areas are trickling in but they seem to have suffered fewer deaths than the city.

Dede Diman, 25, a resident of Petobo, another neighborhood in Palu that was laid waste by liquefaction, said rescuers hadn’t even started searching where his sister was lost.

“We’re already angry,” said Diman, who is living in a shelter with his brother and another sister. Their mother was killed and her body found.

“We don’t agree with giving up. Even if they give up, we won’t. We want to find our sister.”

Mohammad Irfan, 25, got home to Palu on Sunday, as air services picked up, from his job on Bali island, to help search for his missing grandfather.

“I’d feel very sad if the search mission ends because there are so many still missing and buried,” he said.

 

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