A member of the French organisation Pompiers de l’urgence walks out of a hotel damaged in the earthquake and tsunami in Palu. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
French rescuers are unable to find the possible sign of life they previously detected under hotel rubble after the destructive earthquake and tsunami struck the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, killing more than 1,550 people and burying hundreds in mud and debris.
- Survivors continue to search for missing loved ones as foreign aid arrives
- Decaying bodies are buried immediately to ward off public health hazards
- It will take at least two years to redevelop and reconstruct the disaster zone
The five-member International Emergency Firefighters team said its sensor “detected the presence of a victim” under thick concrete in the wreckage of the Mercure Hotel in Palu city.
The device can identify breathing and heartbeats, but gas leaks and other factors can result in false positives.
The team stopped digging overnight. But after an hour of searching on Friday morning, team member Philip Besson said they could not find the signal again.
“We are perplexed and frustrated mostly. We strongly believed in it yesterday,” he said.
“Now we have nothing at all … we tried everything and have no response.”
More than 1,550 dead with toll expected to rise
The death toll from Friday’s 7.5-magnitude earthquake that triggered a tsunami has risen to 1,558, with scores more believed to be buried under collapsed buildings and homes.
Thousands have been injured and more than 70,000 evacuated to shelters and makeshift tents that have sprouted across Palu, but the first signs of recovery are evident.
Electricity has been restored, some shops and banks have reopened, and aid and fuel are arriving.
Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who arrived early on Friday in Palu to assess the situation, said it would take at least two years to redevelop and reconstruct the disaster zone.
Survivors desperate to find missing relatives
Inside a medical tent in the stifling midday heat, wincing in pain at the gashes and cuts that cover her body, all Anisa Cornelia could think about was the love of her life — the man she was supposed to marry this month.
Anisa Cornelia rests as she lies inside a medical tent after being injured in a massive earthquake and tsunami in Palu. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
The 22-year-old has not seen him since the tsunami smashed into an Indonesian island, separating the pair as they strolled along a sandy beach at twilight.
“Where is my fiance? Please, do you have any news?,” she pleaded as medical staff came to check on her.
The last time she saw 25-year-old Iqbal Nurdiansyah he was trying to scoop up two of his young nieces to save them from the oncoming tsunami.
“I believe he’s still alive,” she said. “I still want to marry him, even if God returns him with a disability, no hands or blindness.”
Hasnah, 44, has trouble remembering all of the dead relatives she is trying to find in the tangled expanse of mud and debris that used to be her neighbourhood.
“More than half of my family are gone,” she 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.”
The earthquake triggered a phenomenon called soil liquefaction, which turned the ground into a churning sea of mud.
“I saw our homes being sucked into the earth. The earth was like a blender, blending everything in its way,” she said.
“I’m lucky to be alive but I feel like I don’t want to be.”
Sick of waiting for help, villagers themselves have been searching — when they see a foot sticking out of the debris, they mark the body with a stick, Hasnah said.
Bodies continue to be buried in mass graves
Countless people have yet to find their loved ones — both survivors and the dead.
Doctors said many patients have been at high risk of infection because they were buried in mud.
Lisda Cancer, who heads the local police’s Department of Victim Identification, said about 600 of the bodies buried in mass graves in Palu were unclaimed.
Until Wednesday, authorities had been photographing them in hopes that relatives could identify them later.
“But we had to stop because the corpses we’re recovering now have decayed too much,” Cancer said.
“They’ve become a public health hazard, and the new instructions are to bury them immediately.”