Indonesia considers making devastated areas mass graves
Search teams pulled bodies from obliterated neighborhoods in the disaster-stricken Indonesian city of Palu on Saturday as more aid rolled in and the government said it was considering making devastated areas into mass graves.
Indonesia’s disaster agency said the death toll from the powerful earthquake and tsunami climbed to 1,649, with at least 265 people still missing, though it said that number could be higher. More nations sent aid and humanitarian workers fanned out in the countryside.
The dead were still being recovered more than a week after the double disaster. Eight victims in black body bags of the national search and rescue agency were arranged in a row in the crumpled Palu neighborhood of Balaroa, destined for a mass grave.
Relatives cried as people placed long pieces of white cloth, to represent a Muslim burial rite, inside the bags.
Among them was 39year-old Rudy Rahman, who said the bodies of his 18- and 16-year-old sons had been found. His youngest son remained missing. He watched as rescue workers unloaded the bags from a truck. His wife wept inconsolably.
“They were found in front of my brother’s house opposite the mosque,” Rahman said. “They found them holding each other. These two brothers were hugging each other.”
Balaroa was one of the areas hardest hit by the Sept. 28 magnitude 7.5 quake, which threw homes in the neighborhood tens of meters and left cars upright or perched on eruptions of concrete and asphalt. Many children were in the area’s mosque at the time of the quake for Quran recitation. An assistant to the Imam had said none survived.
Indonesia’s top security minister, Wiranto, who uses a single name, said the government is mulling the possibility of turning Balaroa and Petobo, another neighborhood in Palu, into mass graves. Petobo disappeared into the earth as the force of the quake liquified its soft soil. Liquefaction also struck a large section of Balaroa.
Wiranto said efforts to retrieve bodies are problematic in those neighborhoods, where homes were sucked into the earth, burying possibly hundreds of victims.
He said it’s not safe for heavy equipment to operate there.
Wiranto also said on local television that the government is discussing with local and religious authorities and victims’ families the possibility of halting the search and turning the areas into mass graves. The victims can be considered “martyrs,” he said.
A Japanese Self Defense Force plane landed at Palu’s airport Saturday morning. Soldiers unloaded tons of supplies, including medicine and small portable generators. Several other nations have also sent planeloads of aid.
A man moves concrete from his toppled home in the earthquake-hit Balaroa neighborhood Saturday in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.