Indonesian earthquake death toll soars above 1,500

The death toll from an earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia last week continues to rise, as 1,500 people are now reported dead on the island of Sulawesi.

An Indonesian firefighter rescue team searches for bodies under the ruins in Palu city, Indonesia. Photo by Holti Simanjuntak/EPA-EFE
An Indonesian firefighter rescue team searches for bodies under the ruins in Palu city, Indonesia. Photo by Holti Simanjuntak/EPA-EFE

Rescuers were digging through several feet of mud looking for survivors in the Palu area on Friday, one week after a 7.5-magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit the region. In some places, the soil was so saturated that it liquefied in the aftermath of the earthquake, causing buildings to sink or wash away.
On Friday, the death toll rose to 1,571, according to the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management. An estimated 70,000 houses were also destroyed.

A French rescue team was using high-tech equipment that measures heartbeats and breaths to search for survivors under the rubble.

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“Yesterday we had a heart beat and sign of breathing, there were no other movements so it means it was someone who was motionless, confined,” said Phippe Besson, president of the International Emergency Firefighters. “Today we have no signal.”

Search efforts focused on eight key locations Friday, including a beach in the Balorao area where the sheer force of the quake turned the earth to mush.

Survivors have swarmed shops and supply trucks looking for basic necessities. Aircraft have started flying relief missions with medical equipment, generators and other supplies. Initially, the country was hesitant to accept foreign aid but the scope of the disaster changed their minds.

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Among the missing are 34 children who were attending a Christian bible study camp at church when the earthquake hit.

“I asked somebody, ‘Where’s the church?’ and he answered, “The church is swept down there,” Mika Mantong, who has searched day and night for his daughter Windy, told the Washington Post. “I couldn’t hold back my tears.”

ByNicholas Sakelaris