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

Earthquake survivors scuffle to get live chickens being distributed from a police truck outside a makeshift camp in Palu

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

More than 1,500 people died in last week's quake-tsunami, and local officials said Friday that more than a thousand people could still be missing.

But disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said a day earlier that many victims could still be buried in deep mud in areas where the September 28 quake caused loose, wet soil to liquefy and swallow entire neighbourhoods.

Numerous evacuees had been sleeping outdoors for days after the 7.5 magnitude quake, followed by a tsunami, that struck on the evening of September 28 (local time).

Indonesian man chat on top of the rubble at Petobo neighbourhood, which was wiped out by earthquake-triggered tsunami, in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018.

"There was a palpable sense of relief from the evacuees when they got into our Herc", Flight Lieutenant Dave Natapu, aircraft captain from RNZAF No 40 Squadron, said.

"It is impossible to rebuild in areas with high liquefaction risk such as Petobo and Balaroa", he said, adding villages there will be relocated.

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

Most of the dead have been found in the region's main urban centre, the small city of Palu. Numerous missing are believed to be dead as rescue efforts enter its second and final week.

Indonesia's disaster agency says the death toll from the quake and tsunami that struck a central island last week has increased slightly to 1,424. He earlier said that 120 foreigners were reported to be in the disaster-struck zone, but 119 have been rescued and evacuated.

Television footage showed personnel loading boxes of food into trucks that will be delivered to outlying areas, where many evacuees are still complaining that aid has been slow to arrive.

Royal Australian Air Force Capt. Bryan Parker says the military transport plane will reach central Sulawesi late Thursday from Darwin.

The Red Cross estimates that more than 1.6 million people have been affected.

He provided the updated figure Saturday at a news conference in Jakarta.

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

Indonesian police say 92 people have been arrested for looting goods in areas devastated by an natural disaster and tsunami in Central Sulawesi province.

The tens of thousands left homeless by the disaster are scattered across Palu and beyond.

A floating hospital run by the Indonesian navy and docked in Palu port has already assisted with the delivery of a baby, local media reported.

Traumatised survivors are desperate for help.

"The search for the victim is expected to be completed on Thursday", Sutopo told Xinhua.

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

Indonesia has the world's biggest Muslim population but also pockets of Christians, including on Sulawesi, and other religions.

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