Indonesian officials fear 5,000 missing as Christians pray


Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho says an estimated 5,000 people from Petobo and Balaroa - two villages where homes were sucked into a sinkhole during the September 28 natural disaster - remained unaccounted for.

Indonesian rescue workers will stop searching for the bodies of victims of an quake and tsunami on the island of Sulawesi on Thursday (Oct 11), the national disaster mitigation agency said on Sunday, raising anger, sadness and resignation among relatives of those still missing.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesperson for Indonesia's disaster agency, said officials were trying to confirm the number still missing in several villages decimated in the aftermath of the quake.

Much of it was sucked whole into the ground as the vibrations from the quake turned soil to quicksand in a process known as liquefaction.

It was feared that beneath the crumbled rooftops and twisted rebar, a vast number of bodies remain entombed.

Dozens of rescuers removed 34 bodies from one place on Saturday.

But hopes of finding anyone alive a full eight days later have all but faded, as the search for survivors morphs into a grim gathering of the dead. "We have to be very careful to avoid contamination", Yusuf Latif, a spokesman for Indonesia's search and rescue agency, told AFP from Palu.

Muhlis, whose uncle was still missing in Balaroa, said the missing and dead should be honoured respectfully.

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Meanwhile, Mr Sutopo said as many as 5,000 people may still be missing from two hard-hit areas in Palu.

The United Nations said Friday it was seeking $50.5 million "for immediate relief" to help victims.

But the trickle of global aid to Palu and local efforts to help the survivors have accelerated in recent days.

Teams of Indonesian Red Cross workers set up warehouses and fanned out to distribute supplies across the region, where the double-punch disaster reduced entire neighbourhoods to rubble.

More than 82,000 military and civilian personnel, as well as volunteers, have descended on the devastated city while Indonesian army choppers are running missions to deliver supplies to remote parts of the region that were previously blocked off by the disaster.

The tens of thousands left homeless by the disaster are scattered across Palu and beyond, many squatting outside their ruined homes or bunkered down in makeshift camps and entirely dependent on handouts to survive.

"There is nowhere else to get food, nowhere is open", said 18-year-old Sela Fauziah as she queued for aid.

"I am coming to Palu to report that we need tents, because 95 percent 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.