Indonesia to stop searching for quake victims on Thursday: agency

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Indonesia to stop searching for quake victims on Thursday: agency

Indonesia's disaster agency said the death toll from the powerful quake and tsunami climbed to 1,649, with at least 265 people still missing, though it said that number could be higher.

Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said officials are trying to confirm the number still missing in several villages obliterated when the quake caused loose soil to liquefy, sucking houses into deep mud and burying occupants.

The twin disasters struck Palu and surrounding districts in Central Sulawesi province on September 28.

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.

He said that a further 5,000 people were suspected to be missing in the Palu subdistricts of Balaroa and Petobo but that officials were still looking to verify the claims.

Indonesia's National Board for Disaster Management says, as of Saturday, 1,649 people have been confirmed dead, and more than 60,000 have been forced to evacuate.

The tens of thousands left homeless by the disaster are scattered across Palu and beyond, many squatting outside their ruined homes or bunkered down in makeshift camps and entirely dependent on handouts to survive. "I'm from here so all my family are here, so many are gone", he said, reeling off a list of the missing including a sister, an aunt and cousins. Figures for more remote areas, some still cut off by destroyed roads and landslides, are only trickling in, if at all.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who arrived Friday in Palu to assess the situation, said it will take at least two years to reconstruct the disaster zone.

Royal Australian Air Force Capt. Bryan Parker says the military transport plane will reach central Sulawesi late Thursday from Darwin. Indonesia has traditionally been reluctant to be seen as having to rely on outside help for natural disasters.

Indonesian soldiers unloading supplies brought in by the New Zealanders.

The official death toll from the quake and the tsunami it triggered has risen to 1,649, but will certainly increase. Multinational companies such as Google and Apple have also pledged monetary assistance, in addition to £11.6 million from the United Nations and millions more from other countries.

In a rare move, Indonesia's government has appealed for global help to cope with the tragedy unfolding on Sulawesi island.

A floating hospital run by the Indonesian navy and docked in Palu port has already assisted with the delivery of a baby, local media reported.

Authorities earlier allowed desperate villagers to grab food supplies from shops but have warned them not to take other things.

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

In coordination with the Government of Indonesia, IOM is preparing to send an aid convoy from the south of the island to the north, where needs are greatest.

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