The bodies of dozens of students have been pulled from their landslide-swamped church in Sulawesi, officials said Tuesday, as an international effort to help nearly 200,000 Indonesia quake-tsunami victims ground into gear.
The discovery adds to the already-high death toll from disaster, when a powerful earthquake sent a devastating tsunami smashing into the seaside city of Palu. At least 844 people are already known to have died, but officials say that number is certain to rise perhaps into the thousands as isolated communities are reached and the scale of the disaster becomes clearer.
Survivors are battling thirst and hunger, with food and clean water in short supply, and local hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of injured. Rescue efforts have been hampered by a lack of heavy machinery, severed transport links and the scale of the damage.
As if to remind the world of the tectonic fragility of Indonesia, a series of quakes rocked the country on Tuesday morning, albeit hundreds of kilometres from Palu. The Indonesian military is leading the rescue effort, but following an appeal for international help by the president, NGOs also have teams on the ground in Palu.
At a church in central Sulawesi that had been hit by a landslide, the Red Cross made a grim discovery.
“A total of 34 bodies were found by the team,” Indonesia Red Cross spokeswoman Aulia Arriani said, adding that 86 students had initially been reported missing from a Bible camp at the Jonooge Church Training Centre. Arriani said rescuers faced an arduous trek to reach the mudslide and retrieve the victims.