Search for the dead draws to a close in Palu
PALU: The rebuilding of Palu will take two years after the search for victims buried in the earthquake and tsunami-shattered neighbourhoods of the Indonesian city ended yesterday, after being extended a day.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres yesterday toured one of the worst-hit areas with Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and spoke with survivors being treated at an outdoor tent hospital and evacuation centre.
“We are with the people of Indonesia and Sulawesi,” Mr Guterres said in the neighbourhood of Balaroa. “The UN is with you to support government-led rescue and relief efforts.”
Officials plan prayers in areas such as Balaroa, Petobo and Jono Oge where the force of the September 28, magnitude-7.5 quake liquefied soft soil and tore apart neighbourhoods.
Assessments of the cost of reconstruction were still being carried out, national disaster agency’s spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
“Judging the conditions now, the reconstruction period will be from 2019 to 2020,” he said. “We expect full recovery by 2021.”
The agency said the official death toll was 2073 as of Thursday, with most fatalities in Palu.
Officially, 680 people are missing but officials have acknow- ledged the number could be several thousand because hundreds of homes were sucked into the earth.
Save the Children’s affiliated organisation in Indonesia said there could be as many as 1500 children missing.
Selina Sumbung, the organisation’s chief, said the end of the search mission was accepted with a “heavy heart”. “Children are particularly vulnerable in disasters, and to think that so many will never have the chance to grow up is heartbreaking,” she said.
Central Sulawesi Governor Longki Djanggola said the disaster relief period, due to expire yesterday, was extended by two weeks to October 26. Firefighters, soldiers and other personnel searched the rubble on Thursday in a last push to find victims.
They also burned debris and excavators dug into the tangled remains of buildings.
Heavy equipment hasn’t been able to operate in neighbourhoods where the earth turned to mud, hampering the search effort, and many bodies have decomposed beyond recognition because of the tropical heat.
Kilometres of coastline were trashed by the tsunami that followed the quake, with houses swept off foundations, trucks crumpled and numerous ships beached.
Getting vital supplies to affected areas has proved challenging as flights into Palu remain limited by its small airport, and overland travel is slow.
The UN has sought $US50.5m for urgent relief to assist survivors in need. Indonesia initially refused international help but four days after the disaster President Joko Widodo agreed to allow in overseas aid.
Aid organisations say a dearth of clean drinking water and medical supplies remains a real concern in the coastal city of 350,000.
Nearly 90,000 people were displaced by the quake, forcing them into evacuation centres.
Tina waits for news of her daughters Marsha and Keila as they search for victims in Palu’s liquefaction-hit Balaroa neighbourhood yesterday