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Rescuers searching for victims in Palu, Sulawesi, yesterday. EPA PIC
Rescuers searching for victims in Palu, Sulawesi, yesterday. EPA PIC

PALU, Indonesia: Indonesian volunteers began burying bodies in a vast mass grave yesterday, victims of a quake-tsunami that devastated swathes of Sulawesi, as the United Nations warned that 191,000 people were in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

Indonesia is no stranger to natural calamities and Jakarta had been keen to show it could deal with a catastrophe that has killed at least 844 people, according to the latest official count, and displaced some 59,000 more.

But four days on, some remote areas are only now being contacted, medicines are running out and rescuers are struggling with a shortage of heavy equipment as they try to reach desperate victims calling out from the ruins.

In response, President Joko Widodo opened the door to the dozens of international aid agencies and groups who are lined up to provide life-saving assistance.

Officials feared the death toll would rise steeply in the coming days and were preparing for the worst, declaring a 14-day state of emergency.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that some 46,000 children and 14,000 elderly were in dire need, many in areas that aren’t the focus of government recovery efforts.

In Poboya, in the hills above the devastated seaside city of Palu, volunteers began to fill a vast grave with the dead, with instructions to prepare for 1,300 victims.

Authorities were desperate to stave off any disease outbreak caused by decomposing bodies, some are riddled with maggots.

Three trucks arrived stacked with corpses wrapped in orange, yellow and black bags. One-by-one, they were dragged into the grave as excavators poured soil.

In Balaroa, a Palu suburb once home to a housing complex, the scale of the damage was obvious. A wasteland of flattened trees, concrete, twisted metal roofing, door frames and mangled furniture stretched out into the distance.

Rescuers are racing against the clock and a lack of equipment to save those still trapped, with up to 60 people feared to be underneath one Palu hotel alone. — AFP

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