Missing toll soars to 5,000 in engulfed Indonesia quake neighbourhoods

The number of people believed missing from the quake and tsunami that struck Indonesia’s Palu city has soared to 5,000, an official said on Sunday, an indication that far more may have perished in the twin disaster than the current toll.

Indonesia’s disaster agency say they have recovered 1,763 bodies so far from the 7.5-magnitude and subsequent tsunami that struck Sulawesi on September 28.

But there are fears that two of the hardest-hit neighbourhoods in Palu – Petobo and Balaroa – could contain thousands more victims, swallowed up by ground that engulfed whole communities in a process known as liquefaction.

“Based on reports from the (village) heads of Balaroa and Petobo, there are about 5,000 people who have not been found,” agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told reporters Sunday.

“Nevertheless, officials there are still trying to confirm this and are gathering data. It is not easy to obtain the exact number of those trapped by landslides, or liquefaction, or mud.”

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

The figure drastically increases the estimates for those who disappeared when the disaster struck 10 days ago. Officials had initially predicted about 1,000 people were buried beneath the ruins of Palu.

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