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At mass grave above Indonesian city, many questions linger

At mass grave above Indonesian city, many questions linger

Indonesian authorities on Saturday raised the death toll in the devastating quake and an ensuing tsunami in Sulawesi Island to 1,649.

The security minister, Wiranto, says efforts to retrieve bodies are problematic in parts of the hard-hit city of Palu, including the Balaroa and Petobo neighborhoods, where the September 28 natural disaster caused loose soil to liquefy, causing hundreds of homes to be sucked into quicksand-like mud and burying possibly hundreds of victims.

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

No one knows how many people are missing, especially in the areas hit by liquefaction, but it could be as high as 5,000, the national disaster agency said.

Some schools reopened this week to begin the process of counting how many pupils would be returning after the natural disaster.

"Even if they (search teams) stop looking, we will still try to find them ourselves", the 40-year-old said in Balaroa, one of the hardest hit neighbourhoods.

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"We are perplexed and frustrated mostly".

"They are in great need because the road is cut off and it's accessible only by air", Second Lieutenant Reinaldo Apri said after piloting a helicopter to rugged Lindu district, some 40 kilometres south of Palu.

Sick of waiting for help, villagers themselves have been searching, Hasnah said.

"The search for the victims is expected to be completed on Thursday", an official said.

Photo taken on October 6, 2018 shows a collapsed bridge after the natural disaster and tsunami in Palu, Indonesia.

School principal Abdul Rashid said he was aware of four students killed in the quake. "I'm from here so all my family are here, so many are gone", he said, reeling off a list of the missing including a sister, an aunt and cousins. "Many children are traumatised and frightened". They said they had clean water and noodles but not much else.

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When up to six-metre (20-foot) tsunami waves crashed into the Indonesian city of Palu last month, Didiek Wahyudi Kurniawan's house near the beach was quickly engulfed with water, leaving his wife and two daughters barely any time to escape. The quake ripped apart the roads, hindering access, so helicopters have been dropping aid supplies to more remote areas.

Aid is finally reaching devastated parts of Sulawesi, one week since the quake and tsunami struck the Indonesian island. The archipelago sees frequent earthquakes and occasional tsunami.

In December 2004, a massive 9.1-magnitude natural disaster off the northern Indonesian island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean countries, killing 220,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 168,000 in Indonesia.

In that area, neighbourhoods were obliterated by liquefaction.

The focus will then shift to a relief operation, to help the at least 70,000 people displaced by the disaster.

"I am coming to Palu to report that we need tents, because 95 % of our village has been destroyed", said Simsom Mudju from Lindu, who clambered aboard the chopper to tell the outside world about his marooned community's plight.

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