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Death toll from quakes, tsunami in Indonesia jumps to 1,649

Death toll from quakes, tsunami in Indonesia jumps to 1,649

The death toll from the devastating quake and tsunami on Indonesia's Sulawesi island neared 2,000 on Monday, but thousands more are believed unaccounted for and officials said search teams plan to stop looking for victims later this week. They were from Palu and the surrounding districts struck by the disasters last Friday.

Indonesia has the world's biggest Muslim population but there are Christian communities throughout the archipelago, including in the small city of Palu hit hard by a 7.5 magnitude natural disaster and tsunami on September 28.

Oxfam had sent water treatment units and purification kits to Palu and Swiss aid teams on the ground were providing drinking water and emergency shelter, both said in statements Saturday. "It is not easy to obtain the exact number of those trapped by landslides, or liquefaction, or mud".

Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a briefing in Jakarta some limited searching might continue but large-scale searches with many personnel and heavy equipment would cease on October 11. Another rocked quietly behind her on the same sand where a festival with hundreds of people was being held when the disaster struck.

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

"The area has pretty much been flattened, a lot of the houses have been knocked over, the runway's really damaged, the air traffic control tower was kind of toppled over, so yeah it was significantly worse than I thought it was going to be when we headed in there".

Petobo, a cluster of villages in Palu, was virtually wiped out by the powerful quake and wall of water that devastated Palu.

The most intact structure in the area was a battered two-storey house, pitched over at almost 45 degrees with one side buried and a blue vehicle in the auto port.

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At the massive Balaroa government housing complex, where the sheer force of the quake turned the earth temporarily to mush, soldiers wearing masks to ward off the stench of death clambered over the giant mounds of mud, brick and cement.

The BBC's Hywel Griffith says that after nine days rescue teams on Sulawesi are tiring as they continue the relentless, grim task of recovering bodies.

"This is day ten". He says how many plane loads of aid fly from Darwin will depend on future Indonesian requests for help. He said he believes his son, who was praying at the time when the disaster struck, has gone to heaven. One man, Nizar, said he had identified six relatives among them.

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

Rescue workers retrieved several bodies later on Friday.

Australia's first delivery of urgent supplies will arrive soon in Indonesia to help up to 10,000 people displaced by the quake and tsunami.

The government has said it will declare those communities flattened in Palu as mass graves and leave them untouched.


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