In­done­sia con­sid­ers mak­ing dev­as­tated ar­eas mass graves

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY STEPHEN WRIGHT AND TASSANEE VEJPONGSA As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

AARON FAV­ILA AP

A man moves con­crete from his top­pled home in the earth­quake-hit Balaroa neigh­bor­hood Sat­ur­day in Palu, Cen­tral Su­lawesi, In­done­sia.

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