Indonesia considers turning quake-hit areas into mass graves


"When we can no longer do it ourselves, we leave it to Allah", Gopal, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, added.

Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a briefing in Jakarta that the search will continue for hundreds still missing, including many buried in deep mud and debris from collapsed houses and buildings.

But there are fears that two of the hardest-hit neighbourhoods in Palu - Petobo and Balaroa - could contain thousands more victims, swallowed up by ground that engulfed whole communities in a process known as liquefaction.

Social welfare officials have set up nurseries in makeshift tents as stopgap to keep children safe and help them heal from the trauma.

The official death toll from the quake and the tsunami it triggered stands at 1,571, but it will certainly rise.

Most of the dead have been found in the region's main urban centre, the small city of Palu.

The National Disaster Management Agency said that most bodies were retrieved from Palu, the provincial capital, followed by the districts of Donggala, Sigi, Parigi Mountong and a district of Pasang Kayu in nearby West Sulawesi province.

Philip Besson, a member of the French organization Pompiers de l'urgence, said the team "detected the presence of a victim" in the wreckage of the Mercure Hotel but wasn't able to say if the person is conscious.

"[The survivors] can not stay for very long in the displaced persons camps because [the children] must return to school soon", BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said at a press conference on Sunday, adding that emergency schools may be set up using tents.

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Survivors from the quake-damaged Indonesian city of Palu give a thumbs-up sign before the Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft that evacuated them yesterday to Balikapapan.

"There are so many corpses around here", said Irwan, 37, a resident of Petobo, standing amidst the ruins.

The aid is part of a $3.6 million relief commitment, including more than 50 medical professionals, that Australia made on Wednesday. Two people from his congregation were missing, he said.

Indonesia is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the "Ring of Fire", an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

Nugroho said about 67,000 military and police have been deployed to the area to maintain security and accelerate distribution of aid to survivors in outlying areas.

"If a victim is not found after 14 days, then they will be declared missing", he said.

About 100 Indonesian marines have landed at the airport and 200 more are on their way to help in rescue efforts.

The quakes and the tsunami also left 2,549 people injured, with 265 people still missing.

Febriani said her house was destroyed in the disaster. Relief aid started arriving in the more remote areas of Sulawesi Island. The number of dead is expected to soar as rescue crews comb through affected areas after being slowed initially by broken, impassable roads and other damage.