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Death toll from Indonesia quake nears to almost 2,000

JAKARTA: Nearly 2,000 bodies have been recovered from Indonesia’s disaster-ravaged Palu city, an official said Monday, as the search for victims ended at a hotel destroyed in the powerful earthquake and tsunami.

The death toll from the twin disaster on Sulawesi island that erased whole suburbs in Palu has reached 1,944, said local military spokesman M. Thohir.

“That number is expected to rise, because we have not received orders to halt the search for bodies,” Thohir, who is also a member of the government’s official Palu quake taskforce, told AFP.

Authorities have said as many as 5,000 are believed missing in two hard-hit areas since the September 28 disaster — indicating far more may have perished than the current toll.

The disaster agency said the official search for the unaccounted would continue until October 11 at which point they would be listed as missing, presumed dead.

“The SAR (search and rescue) operation at Hotel Roa-Roa has ended, because we have searched the entire hotel and have not found any more victims,” Bambang Suryo, SAR field director in Palu, told AFP.

Agus Haryono, another SAR official at the scene who confirmed the search was off, said 27 bodies were recovered from the hotel including three pulled from the debris Sunday.

Among the confirmed dead were five paragliders in Palu for a competition, including an Asian Games athlete and a South Korean, the only known foreign victim in the disaster.

The government has said some flattened areas will be declared as mass graves, and left untouched.

Balaroa resident Sarjono agreed with sealing off the obliterated neighbourhood where vast numbers of bodies are believed trapped beneath the ruins.

“When we can no longer do it ourselves, we leave it to Allah.”

Excavators and rescuers combed Balaroa on Monday, where a massive government housing complex was all but swallowed up by the disaster.

Relief efforts have escalated to assist 200,000 people in desperate need. Food and clean water remain in short supply, and many are dependent entirely on handouts to survive.

Helicopters have been running supply drops to more isolated communities outside Palu, where the full extent of the damage is still not entirely clear.

The Red Cross said Monday it had treated more than 1,800 people at clinics and administered first aid to a similar number in the immediate disaster zone.

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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