Bright-coloured body bags were placed side-by-side in a freshly dug mass grave yesterday, as a hard-hit Indonesian city began burying its dead from the earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 840 people and left thousands homeless.
The death toll, largely from the city of Palu, is expected to keep rising as areas cut off by the damage are reached. The magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck at dusk on Friday and generated a tsunami said to have been as high as 6m in places.
Local army commander Tiopan Aritonang said 545 bodies would be brought to the grave from one hospital alone. The trench dug in Palu was 10m by 100m and can be enlarged if needed, said Willem Rampangilei, chief of Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
“This must be done as soon as possible for health and religious reasons,” he said. Indonesia is majority Muslim, and religious custom calls for burials soon after death, typically within one day.
All of the victims have been photographed to help families locate where their relatives were buried.
Around midday, teams of workers, their mouths covered by masks, carried 18 bodies and laid them in the trench. A backhoe waited to push soil on top of the dead. More burials were expected to follow.
Military and commercial aircraft were delivering some aid and supplies. But there was a need for heavy equipment to reach possible survivors buried in collapsed buildings, including an eight-story hotel in Palu where voices had been heard in the rubble.
There were cases of survivors still being pulled from the rubble in different locations, including a 25-year-old woman found alive on Sunday evening in the ruins of the Roa-Roa Hotel, according to the National Search and Rescue Agency.
Novry Wullur, an officer from Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, said Nurul Istiharah, 15, was trapped inside her house after it collapsed. Her mother and niece were dead beside her, and water had left her submerged up to her neck and in danger of drowning. Her legs were finally freed and she was pulled out alive. She was being treated for hypothermia. AP / African News Agency (ANA)