Bodies of mother clutching baby found as Indonesia quake toll rises above 1,500

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

Most of the dead have been found in Palu. Figures for more remote areas, some still cut off by destroyed roads and landslides, are only trickling in, if at all.

No one knows how many people were dragged to their deaths when the ground under Petobo and nearby areas south of Palu, dissolved so violently.

The national disaster agency says 1,700 homes in one neighbourhood alone were swallowed up and hundreds of people killed.

Hasnah, 44, also a resident of Petobo, has trouble remembering all of the relatives she’s trying to find in the tangled expanse of mud and debris.

“More than half of my family are gone,” Hasnah said as she sobbed. “I can’t even count how many. Two of my children are gone, my cousins, my sister, my brother in law and their children, all gone.”

Homes were sucked into the earth, torn apart and shunted hundreds of metres by the churning mud.

“The earth was like a blender, blending everything in its way,” said Hasnah, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

‘THEY LIED’

Hasnah said she has enough food and water but she’s furious that a search and rescue operation in her area only began on Thursday.

“They said they would come with the heavy machines but they didn’t,” she said. “They lied.”

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

“We’ve marked the possible bodies with sticks. You can see a foot sticking out, but there’s no one here to dig them out.”

Rescue workers retrieved several bodies later on Friday.

The first signs of recovery are evident in Palu. Electricity has been restored and some shops and banks have reopened and aid and fuel are arriving.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, visiting the disaster zone, said recovery would be completed in two years, beginning with a two-month emergency response phase when everyone who lost their house would get temporary shelter.

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