Powerful quake shakes western Greece, no major injuries

A child looks at the damaged pier of the port of Zakynthos, following an earthquake off the Zakynthos Island, Greece, October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

By Angeliki Koutantou and Michele Kambas

ATHENS (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake shook western Greece early on Friday, damaging a port and a 15th century monastery, but causing no major injuries, officials and local media said.

The quake sent out tremors felt as far afield as Libya, Italy, Malta and Albania. Greek authorities initially issued a tsunami warning then withdrew the alert.

The magnitude 6.4 quake struck in the Ionian Sea, 50 km (31 miles) south of the island of Zakynthos, also known as Zante, Greece’s Geodynamic Institute reported. The U.S. Geological Survey rated the magnitude at 6.8.

Three people were taken to hospital on the island, two of them slightly injured, a spokesman for Greece’s civil protection agency said. A series of aftershocks, the highest at 5.6, rattled the island and power was briefly disrupted.

Tremors damaged a 15th-century monastery on the nearby islands of Strofades, local media in Zakynthos reported. They also left large cracks in the port of Zakynthos, though authorities there said operations would continue as usual.

“We are not facing any particular problems,” Zakynthos Mayor Pavlos Kolokotsas told Greek state broadcaster ERT. “Calm is being restored.”

Extensive damage was avoided because quake-prone Zakynthos had adopted seismic protection codes in construction, said Efthymios Lekkas, head of Greece’s Earthquake Planning and Protection Organisation.

“The energy unleashed, based on the angle of the faultline, fanned out towards Italy,” he added.

Italy’s Il Messaggero online news site said the quake was felt hundreds of kilometers away in southern Italy. Firefighters in Calabria, Puglia and Sicily received thousands of telephone calls from worried locals.

Zakynthos was all but destroyed in a 6.8 tremor in 1953. More than 140 people were killed in an earthquake north of Athens in 1999.

The quake was fairly shallow, according to the USGS, just 14 km (8.7 miles) below the seabed, which would have amplified shaking.

It struck at 1:54 a.m. (2254 GMT, Thursday). Greece straddles two tectonic plates and often suffers earthquakes.

The EMSC European quake agency said sea levels had risen slightly, by about 20 cm (7.87 inches), but the increase could be higher locally. It later tweeted sea level changes were also observed in Italy.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Additional reporting by Sandra Maler in Washington; Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Peter Cooney, Toni Reinhold and Sanda Maler and Andrew Heavens)

Battered Indonesians seek talismans of former lives in quake rubble

A woman holds a stuffed rabbit toy after it was found at her destroyed house where she said she had lost her three children after the area was hit by an earthquake, in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File photo

BALAROA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Wooden beams tilted at crazy angles poke out of piles of shattered concrete littered with battered motorbikes and household items, from crumpled pots and pans to smudged notebooks and soft toys.

After an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 hit Indonesia’s coastal city of Palu, a pile of broken pink concrete is all that remains of fruit vendor Kaharuddin’s home.

He stared quietly at the rubble in his hometown of Balaroa, saying it concealed the body of his one-year-old daughter, who was among the hundreds missing after the Sept. 28 disaster.

Kaharuddin, 40, waits for excavators to dig up a pile of concrete that used to be his home and was destroyed by an earthquake in Balaroa neighbourhood, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Kaharuddin, 40, waits for excavators to dig up a pile of concrete that used to be his home and was destroyed by an earthquake in Balaroa neighbourhood, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“I’m just waiting here and hope that I can find my child,” said Kaharuddin, 40, who goes by one name, like many Indonesians. “Or maybe I have to accept that one will have to remain buried here.”

Four days after the quake, he said, rescue workers found the remains of his wife, Hastuti, still holding in her arms the bodies of their other two daughters, aged four and two.

As many as 5,000 people may still be buried under the mud, disaster relief officials estimate. Indonesia called off the search for victims on Friday, two weeks after the quake, citing health concerns, despite residents’ pleas to continue.

The town in the province of central Sulawesi was among those hardest hit by the phenomenon of ground liquefaction, when the shaking earth turns soft, damp soil into a roiling quagmire, dragging thousands of houses and people under mud and asphalt.

The destructive waves of soil smashed thousands of homes, cars, and buildings into each other, carrying some of them hundreds of meters from their original position within minutes.

Two men recover a portrait of their dead parents from the rubble of their former house hit by an earthquake in Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Two men recover a portrait of their dead parents from the rubble of their former house hit by an earthquake in Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“It felt like the earth was alive,” said Darmi, 48, who saw half of her two-story home collapse. “It was opening up, swallowing people, and then closing again. And the noise was so loud. This loud cracking ‘k-k-k-k’ sound.”

Returning to Balaroa for the first time two weeks after the disaster, Hesti Andayani, 27, was shocked to find her childhood home had slid downhill, far from its original location.

“It took so long to find,” she said, through tears. “I don’t know where we can live now.”

Hesti, who lost her younger sister in the quake, sat on a pile of tiles that once covered part of her second-floor bedroom, surrounded by dusty jewelry and cosmetics.

“These are all the things I have left. My makeup, my necklaces, the pins for my hijab,” she sobbed, referring to the headgear worn by devout Muslim women.

Searchers arrived with dozens of excavators to help dig out bodies, while some residents made frequent trips to retrieve treasured belongings from the rubble of destroyed homes.

Government district officer Yassir Garibaldi, 43, pushed and pulled at a white car stuck under a collapsed porch.

“I bought this car for my parents,” he said. “They’re gone now but it’s still a good car. It’s the only thing of theirs I can recover.”

He was forced to watch helplessly as his parents and niece suffocated to death after the quake trapped them in a concrete hole flooded with water.

“I found them the morning after the earthquake,” Yassir said.

Ikhmal Yudanto, 15, stands on his mother's car at his destroyed house hit by an earthquake, in Balaroa neighbourhood, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Ikhmal Yudanto, 15, stands on his mother’s car at his destroyed house hit by an earthquake, in Balaroa neighbourhood, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“I managed to speak with them, even gave them some water to drink. But they were crushed against each other, and the water must have been cold. After a while, they just stopped breathing.”

Others must reconcile themselves to the loss of loved ones.

In Petobo, about 12 km (7.5 miles) away, Ameriyah, 56, lost three of her children, a grandchild and a son-in-law. She has accepted it is unlikely that searchers will now uncover their remains.

“We’ve held funeral prayers for them, so we hope their souls will be at peace,” she said.

Some remain inconsolable.

“I don’t know what to do next. There’s nothing left for me here,” said Kaharuddin, the fruit vendor still looking for his daughter’s body under the pink concrete rubble of their former home.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Search for victims of Indonesia disaster extended; three dead in Java quake

A man removes debris from his home in the earthquake and liquefaction affected Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October, 11 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Rozanna Latiff

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesia on Thursday extended for a day the search for victims of a 7.5 magnitude quake and tsunami on Sulawesi island at the request of relatives of the many still missing, the national disaster mitigation agency said.

Some 10,000 rescuers toiled on what would have been the final day of searching the ruins of the seaside city of Palu, hit on Sept. 28 by the double disaster, as relatives hoped their loved ones could be found and given a proper burial.

But a spokesman for the disaster agency told a briefing in Jakarta the search would go on until Friday evening.

The official death toll was raised to 2,073. No one knows how many people have yet to be found in Palu’s ruined neighborhoods but it could be as many as 5,000, the disaster agency says.

If any reminder were needed of Indonesia’s treacherous tectonics, a magnitude 6 quake struck off Java and Bali islands early on Thursday, killing three people in Java, damaging buildings and sparking panic.

The annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are being held this week on Bali and attended by more than 19,000 delegates and other guests, including ministers, central bank heads and some country leaders.

In Palu, on the west coast of Sulawesi, hundreds of kilometers northeast of Bali, survivors waited for news by the debris that has entombed their relatives as workers in orange hard hats and excavators worked.

“I don’t have any tears left, all I want is to find them,” said Ahmad, 43, a farmer who was waiting near a pile of debris that used to be his home in Palu’s Balaroa neighborhood.

His wife and two daughters are missing in the ruins.

Balaroa and other Palu neighborhoods were devastated by liquefaction, which happens when a quake shakes soft, damp soil, turning it into a viscous, roiling liquid.

Ahmad’s third daughter was badly injured and has been taken to the city of Makassar for treatment.

“She’s all I have left. Everything I own, everyone else, is gone,” he said.

A woman sits in front of her home in the earthquake and liquefaction affected Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October, 11 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

A woman sits in front of her home in the earthquake and liquefaction affected Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October, 11 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

‘HAVE TO DIG’

Rescue teams are working with residents to try to identify where victims could be. However, it is mostly guesswork because of how far the ground moved during liquefaction.

“We hope the families understand that there’s very little hope at this point,” said search volunteer Hadrianos Poliamar.

“At the same time, if they ask us to help, if they’re pointing ‘please look here, my family is under here’, of course, we can’t say ‘no’, we have to dig. We want to help as many as we can.”

Nur Alam Shah, a military search and rescue worker, said he was prepared to stay for as long as he was needed.

“But it’s tough now. It’s been too long – the bodies are no longer intact. At most we can find maybe a skull, or some bone fragments,” he said.

The government has said it needs to call off the search for bodies because of concern about the spread of disease, and begin to focus on the next phase – rebuilding.

Nearly 88,000 people have been displaced and many are living in crude shelters in the hills around Palu. The government is seeking 10,000 tents.

Data on the destruction is being compiled and mapping done to help determine where new houses should be built.

The danger of tsunami near the coast in the north of the Palu and of soil liquefaction in the south are the major worries.

Areas hit by liquefaction will be turned into parks and sports fields and memorials.

Rehabilitation and reconstruction will take until 2021, the government says.

Nofal Surya, 37, lost 15 members of his extended family in Balaroa. The bodies of only seven have been found.

“If I follow my heart, of course I want the search to keep going. But I think I have to accept that I may never find them,” he said.

Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s five main islands. The archipelago is often rattled by earthquakes and occasional tsunami.

In 2004, a quake off the north Indonesia island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

(Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe and Tabita Diela in JAKARTA; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

Haiti quake death toll rises to 15, and 300 injured

People stand outside their home after it was damaged in an earthquake, that hit northern Haiti late on Saturday, in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – An earthquake that struck Haiti on Saturday killed 15 people, injured another 300 and destroyed 40 houses, Jerry Chandler, head of the Caribbean country’s civil protection agency, said on Monday.

Chandler was speaking at a news conference to report on the human cost of the relatively shallow, magnitude 5.9 quake, which hit the north of the impoverished country late on Saturday.

People injured in an earthquake that hit northern Haiti late on Saturday, sleep in a tent, in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

People injured in an earthquake that hit northern Haiti late on Saturday, sleep in a tent, in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

The tremor caused widespread panic in the north and was one of the strongest to shake Haiti since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck near the capital Port-au-Prince in 2010. That quake killed tens of thousands of people.

A magnitude 5.2 aftershock on Sunday afternoon sent people rushing into the street in Port-de-Paix, the coastal town that bore the brunt of Saturday’s earthquake.

(Reporting by Cheslie Jean Baptiste; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Indonesians step up search for quake victims to beat deadline as toll exceeds 2,000

Men walk at Petobo neighbourhood which was hit by earthquake and liquefaction in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Rozanna Latiff and Kanupriya Kapoor

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Rescue workers in Indonesia stepped up their search for victims of an earthquake and tsunami on Tuesday, hoping to find as many bodies as they can before this week’s deadline for their work to halt, as the official death toll rose to 2,010.

The national disaster mitigation agency has called off the search from Thursday, citing concern about the spread of disease. Debris would be cleared and areas, where bodies lie, would eventually be turned into parks, sports venues and memorials.

Perhaps as many as 5,000 victims of the 7.5 magnitude quake and tsunami on Sept. 28 have yet to be found, most of them entombed in flows of mudflows that surged from the ground when the quake agitated the soil into a liquid mire.

Most of the bodies have been found in the seaside city of Palu, on the west coast of Sulawesi island, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of the capital, Jakarta.

An excavator removes a damaged car next to the debris of a mosque damaged by an earthquake in the Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 8. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

An excavator removes a damaged car next to the debris of a mosque damaged by an earthquake in the Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 8.
REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

More than 10,000 rescue workers are scouring expanses of debris, especially in three areas obliterated by soil liquefaction in the south of the small city.

“We’re not sure what will happen afterwards, so we’re trying to work as fast as possible,” said rescue worker Ahmad Amin, 29, referring to the deadline, as he took a break in the badly hit Balaroa neighborhood.

At least nine excavators were working through the rubble of Balaroa on Tuesday, picking their way through smashed buildings and pummeled vehicles. At least a dozen bodies were recovered, a Reuters photographer said.

“There are so many children still missing, we want to find them quickly,” said Amin, who is from Balaroa and has relatives unaccounted for. “It doesn’t matter if it’s my family or not, the important thing is that we find as many as we can.”

The state disaster mitigation agency said the search was being stepped up and focused more intensely on areas where many people are believed to be buried.

Forjan carries his grandson Rafa outside his tent at a camp for displaced victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

The decision to end the search has angered some relatives of the missing but taxi driver Rudy Rahman, 40, said he had to accept it.

“As long as they keep searching, I will be here every day looking for my son,” said Rahman, who said he had lost three sons in the disaster. The bodies of two were found, the youngest is missing.

“This is the only thing I can do, otherwise I would go insane,” he said, choking back tears. “If they stop, what can I do? There are four meters of soil here. I couldn’t do it on my own.”

‘POLITICAL SENSITIVITIES’

While Indonesian workers searched, the disaster agency ordered independent foreign aid workers to leave the quake zone.

Indonesia has traditionally been reluctant to be seen as relying on outside help to cope with disasters, and the government shunned foreign aid this year when earthquakes struck the island of Lombok.

But it has accepted help from abroad to cope with the Sulawesi disaster.

The disaster agency, in a notice posted on Twitter, set the rules out for foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), saying they were not allowed to “go directly to the field” and could only work with “local partners”.

Gumbu, 73, stands with is family outside his tent at a camp for displaced victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Gumbu, 73, stands with is family outside his tent at a camp for displaced victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“Foreign citizens who are working with foreign NGOs are not allowed to conduct any activity on the sites,” it said, adding that foreign NGOs with people deployed should withdraw them immediately.

A few foreign aid workers have been in the disaster zone, including a team from the group Pompiers Humanitaires Francais that searched for survivors, but they have spoken of difficulties in getting entry permits and authorization.

“This is the first time we encountered such difficulty in actually getting to do our work,” team leader Arnaud Allibert told Reuters, adding they were leaving on Wednesday as their help was no longer needed.

Indonesian governments are wary of being too open to outside help because they could face criticism from political opponents and there is particular resistance to the presence of foreign military personnel, as it could be seen as an infringement of sovereignty.

“There are political sensitivities, especially with an election coming up, and sovereignty is another issue,” said Keith Loveard, a senior analyst with advisory and risk firm Concord Consulting, referring to polls due next year.

Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s five main islands. The archipelago sees frequent earthquakes and occasional tsunami.

In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Foreign governments and groups played a big role in aid efforts in 2004.

(Additional reporting by John Chalmers, Agustinus Beo Da Costa, and Tabita Diela in JAKARTA; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

Anger, dismay as Indonesia says search for quake victims to end

People attend an outdoor church service in the earthquake damaged area of Jono oge village, in Sigi district, south of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Fathin Ungku

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Relatives of hundreds of people missing after an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia reacted with anger, sadness and resignation on Sunday to a decision by the state disaster agency to end searches for bodies later this week.

The 7.5 magnitude quake on Sept. 28 brought down shopping malls, hotels and other buildings in the city of Palu, while tsunami waves smashed into its beachfront. But perhaps more deadly was soil liquefaction which obliterated several Palu neighborhoods.

No one knows how many people are missing but it is at least in the hundreds, rescuers say.

The official death toll has risen to 1,763 but bodies are still being recovered, at least 34 in one place alone on Saturday and more on Sunday.

“Many of us are angry that we haven’t found our families and friends and they want to give up?” said Hajah Ikaya, 60, who says she lost her sister, brother-in-law and niece in the Balaroa neighborhood in the south of the city. They are all missing.

Balaroa was one of areas particularly hard hit by liquefaction, which turns the ground into a roiling quagmire, destroying houses and dragging people under the mud and debris.

The disaster agency said earlier liquefaction destroyed 1,700 houses in one neighborhood alone with hundreds of people buried in the mud.

“We’re Muslim. We need a proper burial, in the Islamic way,” said Ikaya. “We don’t want this.”

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 Oct. 11.

Debris would be cleared and areas hit by liquefaction would be turned into parks and sports venues. Surveys would be carried out and people living in vulnerable places would be moved.

“We don’t want the community to be relocated to such dangerous places,” Nugroho said.

Most of the dead from the quake and tsunami were in Palu, the region’s main urban center. Figures for more remote areas are trickling in but they seem to have suffered fewer deaths than the city.

Dede Diman, 25, a resident of Petobo, another neighborhood in Palu that was laid waste by liquefaction, said rescuers hadn’t even started searching where his sister was lost.

“We’re already angry,” said Diman, who is living in a shelter with his brother and another sister. Their mother was killed and her body found.

“We don’t agree with giving up. Even if they give up, we won’t. We want to find our sister.”

Graphic: Catastrophe in Sulawesi – https://tmsnrt.rs/2OqQlUo

PRAYERS

Mohammad Irfan, 25, got home to Palu on Sunday, as air services picked up, from his job on Bali island, to help search for his missing grandfather.

“I’d feel very sad if the search mission ends because there are so many still missing and buried,” he said.

A grieving father was resigned to the search ending without his two-year-old daughter being found.

“What’s the point anyway? At this stage, they’re not even recognizable,” said Ondre, 38, who makes toys for a living.

Villagers affected by the earthquake wave after an Indonesian military helicopter dropped aid in Lindu village south of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Villagers affected by the earthquake wave after an Indonesian military helicopter dropped aid in Lindu village south of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

His wife and two daughters were swept away in the tsunami that hit Palu’s seafront after the earthquake. He found the bodies of his wife and older daughter but is still looking for his younger daughter.

“I don’t want her to feel like her father never tried to find her. My soul wouldn’t rest,” he said by a mass grave atop a hill overlooking Palu’s bay as the sun set, where he had come to offer prayers.

Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s five main islands. The archipelago sees frequent earthquakes and occasional tsunami.

In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Earlier on Sunday, dozens of Christians gathered outside ruined churches for services to give thanks for their survival and to mourn members of their congregation killed in the disaster.

Indonesia has the world’s biggest Muslim population but there are Christian communities throughout the archipelago, including in Palu.

“We are so relieved to be alive but sad because so many of our congregation died,” said Dewi Febriani, 26, after a service in a tent outside the Toraja Church in Jono Oge village, south of Palu.

Jono Oge was hit hard by liquefaction with dozens of teenagers at a nearby church and Bible camp killed. Many of lie buried in the mud.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Damiana in JAKARTA, Rozanna Latiff in PALU; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Haiti quake kills at least 14, aftershock jolts nervous residents

People injured in an earthquake that hit northern Haiti late on Saturday, are being looked after in a tent, in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-DE-PAIX (Reuters) – An earthquake hit northern Haiti late on Saturday, killing at least 14 people and sparking a scramble by rescue agencies to help residents of the worst-hit towns in the impoverished Caribbean country.

A local official said at least eight people died in Port-de-Paix on the northern coast near the epicenter of the magnitude 5.9 quake, which struck at a depth of 11.7 kilometers (7.3 miles), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Four people were killed in and around the town of Gros-Morne farther south, local authorities said, including a woman who died from a heart attack suffered after the quake.

Another person was killed in the town of Chansolme when a house collapsed and one other person in Saint-Louis-du-Nord. Rescue teams fanned out to help residents, many of whom were still dealing with the trauma of a devastating earthquake in 2010.

A magnitude 5.2 aftershock on Sunday afternoon sent people rushing into the street in Port-de-Paix, with many vowing that they would not sleep inside their houses that night.

Marie Lourdes Estainvil, 45, raised her hands and loudly sang, “Jesus, we need your presence among us!” as others gathered.

There were no immediate reports of further damage from the aftershock.

President Jovenel Moise said he would send additional police and military to the region, promising to assist the families of victims.

Some houses in the worst-affected areas were destroyed by the earthquake, the agency said. The full extent of the damage was not clear though in parts of Port-de-Paix residents tried to go about their business normally on Sunday.

A local government representative said 152 people were injured in Port-de-Paix, and the most seriously hurt were taken by air ambulance to the capital Port-au-Prince for treatment. Another 30 were injured in Gros-Morne.

Among the damaged buildings was a church in the northern town of Plaisance, the civil protection agency said, adding that additional food and medical supplies were on their way to the most battered towns.

The tremor was one of the strongest to batter Haiti since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck near the capital in 2010. It killed tens of thousands of people.

(Additional reporting by Chelsie Jean Baptiste Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)

Bodies of mother clutching baby found as Indonesia quake toll rises above 1,500

A resident affected by the earthquake and tsunami cries during Friday prayers in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Fathin Ungku

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – A week after a major earthquake brought devastation to Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, Ichsan Hidayat told how the bodies of his sister and her 43-day-old daughter were found under a sea of mud and debris, the mother clutching her baby to her chest.

Hidayat was not on Sulawesi last Friday when the 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck, triggering a phenomenon called soil liquefaction, which turns the ground into a roiling quagmire.

A woman resident carries containers from the ruins of her house after an earthquake hit Balaroa sub-district in Palu, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

A woman resident carries containers from the ruins of her house after an earthquake hit Balaroa sub-district in Palu, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

The neighborhood of Petobo, in the south of the city of Palu, where his sister, Husnul Hidayat, lived with her daughter, Aisah, was wiped out.

Rescuers who recovered the bodies told Hidayat his sister was found holding Aisah close.

“Today, I prayed that they are in a better place. They deserve better,” Hidayat told Reuters as he left Friday prayers at a mosque in the center of Palu, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

Worshippers knelt to pray on red carpets put down outside the mosque as the building is unsafe due to quake damage.

Indonesia has the world’s biggest Muslim population but also pockets of Christians, including on Sulawesi, and other religions.

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

Most of the dead have been found in Palu. Figures for more remote areas, some still cut off by destroyed roads and landslides, are only trickling in, if at all.

Destroyed houses as seen after an earthquake hit Petobo neighbourhood in Palu, Indonesia, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Destroyed houses as seen after an earthquake hit Petobo neighbourhood in Palu, Indonesia, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

No one knows how many people were dragged to their deaths when the ground under Petobo and nearby areas south of Palu, dissolved so violently.

The national disaster agency says 1,700 homes in one neighborhood alone were swallowed up and hundreds of people killed.

Hasnah, 44, also a resident of Petobo, has trouble remembering all of the relatives she’s trying to find in the tangled expanse of mud and debris.

“More than half of my family are gone,” Hasnah 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.”

Homes were sucked into the earth, torn apart and shunted hundreds of meters by the churning mud.

“The earth was like a blender, blending everything in its way,” said Hasnah, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

Rescue team members stand as heavy equipment clear debris to find dead bodis after an earthquake hit Petobo neighbourhood in Palu, Indonesia, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Rescue team members stand as heavy equipment clear debris to find dead bodis after an earthquake hit Petobo neighbourhood in Palu, Indonesia, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

‘THEY LIED’

Hasnah said she has enough food and water but she’s furious that a search and rescue operation in her area only began on Thursday.

“They said they would come with the heavy machines but they didn’t,” she said. “They lied.”

Sick of waiting for help, villagers themselves have been searching, Hasnah said.

“We’ve marked the possible bodies with sticks. You can see a foot sticking out, but there’s no one here to dig them out.”

Rescue workers retrieved several bodies later on Friday.

As the sun set, a mass prayer ceremony was held by Palu’s seafront that was scoured by the tsunami.

“We pray for the ones who have died and for those yet to be found,” the imam said. “Allahu Akbar,” or God is Greatest, responded the congregation.

The first signs of recovery are evident in Palu. Electricity has been restored and some shops and banks have reopened and aid and fuel are arriving.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, visiting the disaster zone, said recovery would be completed in two years, beginning with a two-month emergency response phase when everyone who lost their house would get temporary shelter.

Doctors have been flocking to help from other parts of Indonesia.

A girl carries valuables from the ruins of her house after an earthquake hit the Balaroa sub-district in Palu, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

A girl carries valuables from the ruins of her house after an earthquake hit the Balaroa sub-district in Palu, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

The Budi Agung hospital has 134 beds with about 20 more set up in a tent outside, all full. A hospital ship is also due to arrive.

Doctors said many patients have been at high risk of infection because they were buried in mud.

Rescue workers are pushing into outlying districts cut off for days. Villagers rushed a Red Cross helicopter that landed at Sirenja village near the quake’s epicenter, about 75 km (45 miles) north of Palu, to drop off supplies.

Some quake damage was evident but the coast did not appear to have been battered by the tsunami, a Reuters photographer said.

Sulawesi is one of the archipelago nation’s five main islands, and like the others, is exposed to frequent earthquakes and tsunami.

In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

(Additional reporting by Tom Allard, Ronn Bautista in PALU, Darren Whiteside in SIRENJA, Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Maikel Jefriando, Tabita Diela, Gayatri Suroyo, Fransiska Nangoy, Fanny Potkin, Ed Davies in JAKARTA; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie.)

Lights, TVs back on in Indonesia quake city, but fate of thousands unknown

A father holds his daughter's hand in a hospital as she receives medical treatment for injuries sustained from the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Fathin Ungku

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Electricity was restored and shops began reopening in Indonesia’s quake and tsunami-stricken city of Palu on Thursday, but the fate of many thousands of people in outlying districts remained unknown nearly a week after the disaster struck.

The small city of 370,000 people has been the focus of the aid effort launched after last Friday’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on the west coast of Sulawesi island.

A soft toy is seen among the ruins of a house after an earthquake hit the Balaroa sub-district in Palu, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

A soft toy is seen among the ruins of a house after an earthquake hit the Balaroa sub-district in Palu, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

International help for survivors has gathered pace, but communities in more remote areas have been cut off by broken roads, landslides and crippled communications, leaving people increasingly desperate for basic needs as aid has only just begun to trickle through.

By Thursday, the official death toll stood at 1,424, but it is widely expected to rise as most of the dead accounted for have been from Palu, while figures for remote areas are trickling in or remain unknown.

“There are so many challenges with this disaster, it’s never been so bad,” said Frida Sinta, an aid volunteer trying to get basic food and other supplies out to fellow residents of Palu.

The city, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, has teetered close to chaos this week, with outbreaks of looting, but a recovery was evident as some shops and banks reopened and a major mobile phone network was back in operation.

A local resident stands next to damage cars days after the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A local resident stands next to damage cars days after the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Orderly queues formed at petrol stations after the arrival of fuel shipments and late in the day, traffic lights and televisions flickered back to life as the power came back on.

The improvements are helping with the aid effort.

“We carry whatever we can by car or motorbike within the city wherever we can. But not yet to the most inaccessible places,” Sinta said.

State port operator Pelindo IV said Palu’s port, which was damaged by the quake and tsunami, was open, though a Reuters reporter in the city said she had not seen any shipping activity.

Altogether, the worst affected areas in the disaster zone include some 1.4 million people.

Rescue workers are pushing into outlying districts, where residents have said they have been scavenging for coconuts, bananas, and cassava.

Villagers rushed a Red Cross helicopter that landed near the town of Donggala, northwest of Palu, to distribute bread and other food, a Reuters photographer said.

National disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a briefing the main roads to the south, west, and east of Palu had been opened.

But there has been scant information about conditions on the road to the north, along the coast towards the epicenter of the quake, 78 km (50 miles) from Palu.

“There’s no data,” said Abdul Haris of the national search and rescue agency, when asked about the string of small settlements that line the road, which passes some sandy beaches that attract a trickle of tourists.

“Places have been damaged by the tsunami along the coast,” Nugroho said, but he had no details.

Local residents affected by the earthquake and tsunami queue up for fuel at a gas station in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Local residents affected by the earthquake and tsunami queue up for fuel at a gas station in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

‘DIFFICULT TIME’

While the power is back in Palu, it will take much longer for people to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Asril Abdul Hamid, 35, a business owner, was poking through the wreckage of his home in Palu’s Balaroa district, which was badly hit by deadly soil liquefaction.

He salvaged a few mementos including a family portrait.

“My immediate family is safe, thank God, but my cousin was killed,” he told Reuters, adding that his family had got food and water in the past few days.

International aid is beginning to arrive, including supplies from Britain and Australia, after the government overcame a traditional reluctance to accept help from abroad.

The United Nations announced an allocation of $15 million on Wednesday while the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was appealing for 22 million Swiss francs ($22 million).

The United States had provided initial funding and disaster experts and was working to determine what other help could be given, the State Department said.

Indonesian Central Bank Governor Perry Warjiyo said the disaster was a huge challenge but he played down the impact on Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

“We are united and we stand strong,” he told a briefing late on Wednesday.

Straddling the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia has long been vulnerable to quakes and tsunamis.

In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

But safety measures implemented after that disaster, including tsunami warning systems, failed on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Tom Allard in PALU, Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Maikel Jefriando, Tabita Diela, Gayatri Suroyo, Fransiska Nangoy, Fanny Potkin, Ed Davies and Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA, Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in GENEVA, Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Engineer grateful to be alive after tsunami beaches his 500-tonne ship

FILE PHOTO: The KM Sabuk Nusantara 39 ship is seen stranded on the shore after the earthquake and tsunami hit an area in Wani, Donggala, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Tom Allard

WANI, Indonesia (Reuters) – Ship’s engineer Charles Marlan had the unsettling sensation his vessel was being sucked out to sea, the telltale sign of an imminent tsunami, just minutes after a major earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday.

His passenger and cargo vessel, the 500-tonne KM Sabuk Nusantara 39, was docked in Wani, east of the city of Palu, which suffered the brunt of the disaster.

“The whole ship was shaking, everything in our bunks started falling,” Marlan said.

The ship was picked up by the tsunami rushing in from the sea and slammed onto land, crashing into a dockside settlement.

And that’s where it lies, high and dry, nearly a week after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the area, killing at least 1,424 people.

Marlan and his fellow crewmen knew they were in trouble when they felt the ship being pulled back out to sea from the dock, as the sea receded, heralding the arrival of a tsunami.

They had no sooner scrambled into life jackets when a five-meter wave bore down on them.

“I could hear the waves coming,” Marlan said, describing how he was gripped by fear.

“The waves carried us very fast and before we knew it, we were sitting on land,” he said in an interview aboard the ship, which sits balanced precariously, its propeller and rudder exposed, hanging dusty meters above the ground.

FILE PHOTO: The KM Sabuk Nusantara 39 ship is seen stranded on the shore after the earthquake and tsunami hit an area in Wani, Donggala, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The KM Sabuk Nusantara 39 ship is seen stranded on the shore after the earthquake and tsunami hit an area in Wani, Donggala, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

No one on the boat was hurt.

Now Marlan and 20 crewmen are stranded, awaiting a decision on what should be done from the national ferry operator, which owns the vessel.

They survive on handouts from passing ferries and while away the time, attending a roll-call every now and then and chatting with neighborhood kids who climb up on board.

Marlan said he was thankful his ship had not killed anyone when it was hurled onto the land, as far as they knew.

“What is important is we are alive and for that we should be grateful.”

(Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)