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French rescuers search for bodies in the rubble of the Indonesian earthquake disaster



PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – A team of French rescue experts began hunting down a vast rubble area on the outskirts of the Indonesian city of Palu on Saturday looking for mud, mud or feet of earthquake victims.

Last week's earthquake victim is found in the Balaroa district in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, on October 6, 201

8. REUTERS / Darren Whiteside

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has found all the victims of the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami that shook the west coast of Sulawesi Island on September 28, killing more than 1,500 people.

It is believed that hundreds of people are trapped in slow-drying mud that has shrouded the communities in the south of the small town of Palu when the quake triggered soil liquefaction, a phenomenon that turns the soil into an agitated swamp.

Arnaud Allibert and four other members of the Pompiers Humanitaires Francais group were the first rescuers in a grim expanse of cluttered rubble left over from the village of Petobo.

The task of the team is to find and rediscover the bodies on the surface, clearing the way for the heavy machinery to penetrate deeper.

It's going to be a long, hard job.

"We will eliminate all the superficial debris that lies on top and go into the rooms and see if there are corpses," Allibert told Reuters as he examined a terrible mess of rubble.

"If there are bodies in the fields, we will extract them, and if we see body parts sticking out, we will dig to get the body out … It's a long-term job, but after that they become heavy-weight machines come, "he said.

The death toll from the quake and tsunami is 1,649, but it is likely to increase.

Last week's earthquake victim is found in the Balaroa district in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, on October 6, 2018. REUTERS / Darren Whiteside

Most of the dead were found in Palu. Numbers for more remote areas, some of which are reconnected to the outside world only on the road, only trickle in.

Nobody knows how many people were killed when the soil beneath Petobo and the neighboring areas south of Palu dissolved so violently.

Houses were sucked into the earth, torn apart and pushed hundreds of feet through the churned-up mud.

(GRAPHICS: Catastrophe in Sulawesi – tmsnrt.rs/2OqQlUo)

"FIVE MONTHS & # 39;

The National Disaster Bureau says 1,700 homes in one area were devoured alone and hundreds of people disappeared.

Allibert said it would take months to find all the bodies.

"It could take 4 to 5 months to clear the ground, and that's with the dredgers," he said. "The dredgers can not pick up large amounts of soil because there are corpses underneath, you have to scrape the soil carefully."

Traumatized survivors are desperately seeking help.

"There are so many bodies here," said Irwan, 37, who, like many Indonesians, has a name.

Slideshow (8 pictures)

"I'm from here, so all my family are here, so many are gone," he said, drawing a list of missing persons, including a sister, an aunt and Cousins.

"Where are they? What if they are still alive? We need help to find them," he said.

Indonesia has traditionally been reluctant to rely on external aid for natural disasters.

The government spurned foreign aid this year when earthquakes struck Lombok Island, but said it would accept aid to Sulawesi from abroad.

Nevertheless, Allibert said it was difficult to obtain permits for Sulawesi.

"I totally understand, they do not want anyone coming in," he said.

Michael Lesmeister, head of the ISAR Germany group, said landing permits for his personnel and cargo have arrived and after three days of waiting, a water purification system will be installed in Palu.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abdurrahman Mohammad Fachir declared 25 countries in Jakarta and four foreign organizations had offered assistance and co-ordinated ministries to facilitate the arrival of their aid.

The most important goods are aircraft, generators, tents, water treatment and medical facilities on site, he said.

(GRAPHIC: Destruction in Palu – tmsnrt.rs/2IDFukK)

Additional coverage by Hannibal Hanschke and Jessica Damiana; Letter from Robert Birsel; Edited by Paul Tait

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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