Disease fears as more bodies found in Indonesia disaster

Disease fears as more bodies found in Indonesia disaster
Indonesian soldiers carry a dead body from the debris at Perumnas Balaroa village in Palu, in Central Sulawesi on October 6, 2018, following the September 28 earthquake and tsunami.
PHOTO: AFP

Rescuers picking through the grim aftermath of Indonesia's quake-tsunami issued a fresh public health warning Saturday as more decaying corpses were unearthed from beneath the ruined city of Palu.

Officials said Saturday the death toll had climbed to 1,649 with more than a thousand maybe still missing in the seaside city on Sulawesi island, after the region was hit by a powerful quake and a wall of water.

Hopes of finding anyone alive a full eight days since the disaster have all but faded, though the search has not been officially called off.

There are fears that vast numbers of decomposing bodies could still be buried beneath Petobo and Balaroa -- two areas virtually wiped off the map.

"Most of the bodies we have found are not intact, and that poses a danger for the rescuers. We have to be very careful to avoid contamination," Yusuf Latif, a spokesman for Indonesia's search and rescue effort, told AFP from Palu.

"We have vaccinated our teams, but we need to be extra cautious."

Security minister Wiranto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said eventually the worst-hit areas would have to be declared mass graves and left untouched.

"We have to make a decision as to when the search for the dead will end. Then, we later must decide when the area will be designated a mass grave," he told reporters late Friday.

Scores killed in Indonesia quake, tsunami

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    Earthquake survivors in Palu, Central Sulawesi, crowd Mutiara Sis Al Jufri Airport in Palu in a desperate attempt to leave the devastated area on Monday.

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    A combination of satellite images shows Palu, Indonesia on September 22, 2018 (L) and on October 1, 2018.

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    A combination of satellite images shows Palu, Indonesia on September 22, 2018 (L) and on October 1, 2018.

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    In the wake of mass destruction caused by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami, survivors in Palu and Donggala in Central Sulawesi have been scrambling to salvage food supplies and other items, as aid from the central government began to trickle into the region.

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    An aerial view of an area devestated by an earthquake in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 1, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.

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    Local residents affected by the earthquake and tsunami retrieve gasoline at a gas station in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

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    This handout from Indonesia's National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) taken on September 29, 2018 shows an aerial view of Palu, Indonesia's Central Sulawesi, after an earthquake and tsunami hit the area on September 28.

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    Scores of people were killed when a powerful quake and tsunami struck central Indonesia, an AFP photographer at the scene said on Saturday (Sept 29), as rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region.

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    Photographs from Palu, home to around 350,000 on the coast of Sulawesi island, showed partially covered bodies on the ground near the shore, the morning after tsunami waves as high as 1.5 metres slammed into the city.

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    A satellite image shows Palu, Indonesia on October 1, 2018.

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    The tsunami was triggered by a strong quake that brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground as a churning wall of water crashed into Palu.

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    People living hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre reported feeling the massive shake, hours after a smaller jolt killed at least one person in the same part of the South-east Asian archipelago.

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    The quake hit just off central Sulawesi at a depth of 10 kilometres just before 6pm local time, the US Geological Survey said. Such shallow quakes tend to be more destructive.

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    Search and rescue teams have been dispatched to hard-hit areas

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    A 10-storey hotel in Palu in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi collapsed following a strong earthquake in the area.

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    As shattered survivors scoured make-shift morgues for loved ones, and authorities struggled to dig out the living or assess the scale of the devastation beyond the city of Palu, grim warnings came that the eventual toll could reach thousands.

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    Rescuers on Sulawesi island raced against the clock and a lack of equipment to save those still trapped in the rubble, with up to 60 people feared to be underneath one Palu hotel alone.

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    Others have centred their search around open-air morgues, where the dead lay in the baking sun - waiting to be claimed, waiting to be named.

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    Still, as dire as the situation in Palu was, it was at least clear. In outlying areas, the fate of thousands is still unknown.

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    Desperate survivors, now facing a third straight night sleeping outdoors, turned to looting shops for basics like food, water and fuel as police looked on, unwilling or unable to intervene.

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'Just bodies'

At the massive Balaroa government housing complex, where the sheer force of the quake turned the earth temporarily to mush, soldiers wearing masks to ward off the stench of death clambered over the giant mounds of mud, brick and cement.

The troops peeking under collapsed walls and peeling back corrugated sheets did not have to look hard.

Sergeant Syafaruddin, from an army unit in Makassar south of Palu, asked for a body bag to be brought to a spot near where the remnants of an Islamic school now stands.

Two of his soldiers emerge from the ditch with the bag sagging in the middle but looking too light to be a corpse -- they said they had found the heads of two adults and one child.

"There are no survivors here. We just find bodies, every day," said Syafaruddin.

At the flattened Hotel Roa-Roa -- where early optimism that survivors might be found faded as the days wore on -- rescuers reviewed CCTV footage to get a sense of where the doomed guests could be buried.

Short supplies

Thousands of survivors continued to stream out of Palu to nearby cities in the aftermath of the disaster.

Hospitals remain overstretched and short on staff and supplies.

In Karawana village, nurse Iyong Lamatowa can offer little more than antibiotics and pain killers to treat those flocking to a makeshift clinic with badly-infected wounds.

Project HOPE, a medical NGO, said only two of its 82 staff in Palu had reported for duty since the quake.

"We still don't know the fate of the clinic doctors, nurses and technicians who usually staff the clinic," the organisation said in a statement.

A floating hospital run by the Indonesian navy and docked in Palu has already assisted with the delivery of four babies, local media reported.

Survivors have ransacked shops and supply trucks in the hunt for basic necessities, prompting security forces to round up dozens of suspected looters and warn that they will open fire on thieves.

Hundreds of people Saturday rushed a truck carrying gas cylinders for cooking, with long and desperate queues quickly forming.

One supermarket that opened its doors refused to allow people inside, instead passing goods through the door as armed troops stood watch.

A convoy of five hundred trucks laden with donated food, cooking oil and other essentials was on its way to Palu, agriculture minister Amran Sulaiman said in the devastated city on Saturday.

"Palu's ordeal is the grief for all of us and that's why everyone is lending a hand to help," he said.

Aid trickles in

The United Nations said Friday it was seeking $50.5 million "for immediate relief" to help victims of the devastating quake and tsunami in Indonesia.

After days of delays, international aid is slowly making its way to the disaster zone, where the UN says almost 200,000 people need humanitarian assistance.

Getting vital supplies to the affected areas has proved hugely challenging, with the number of flights able to land at Palu's small airport still limited, leaving aid workers facing gruelling overland journeys.

Oxfam had sent water treatment units and purification kits to Palu and Swiss aid teams on the ground were providing drinking water and emergency shelter, both said in statements Saturday.

Indonesia sits along the world's most tectonically active region, and its 260 million people are vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

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