Indonesia quake and tsunami: Death toll rises past 2,000

KONFRONTASI-The death toll from Indonesia's earthquake and tsunami has climbed past 2,000, as authorities prepare to end the search for thousands of victims feared buried in mud and rubble in the hardest-hit neighbourhoods of Sulawesi island.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesperson for the country's disaster agency, told reporters on Tuesday that the toll from the September 28 twin disasters had climbed to 2,010.

He said authorities will hold prayers on Thursday to mark the end of the search in the Petobo, Balaroa and Jono Oge areas of Palu city, where the quake caused loose soil to liquefy, swallowing houses and burying the occupants with them.

Efforts to retrieve bodies, many entombed under mud and rubble as deep as 3 metres, will not continue because of the difficult terrain and advanced state of decomposition that made the bodies unrecognisable and could cause contamination, Nugroho said.

"On October 11, we will hold joint prayers in Balaroa, Petobo and Jono Oge to end the evacuation of bodies," he told a daily news briefing on the relief efforts.

Most of the bodies have been found in Palu, where more than 10,000 rescue workers continued to scour expanses of debris.
"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 neighbourhood.

"There are so many children still missing, we want to find them quickly," said Amin, who is from Balaroa and has relatives unaccounted for.

At least nine excavators were working through the rubble of Balaroa, picking their way through smashed buildings and pummelled vehicles.

At least a dozen bodies were recovered, according to a Reuters news agency photographer.