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

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 mud flows that surged from the ground when the quake agitated the soil into a liquid mire.


Health fears turn from injury to disease as Indonesia quake toll rises above 2,000

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.

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.

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.”


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”.

“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.

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At Least 11 Dead In Haiti Earthquake: Officials

Port-au-Prince: A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck just off the northwest coast of Haiti late Saturday, killing at least 11 people and causing damage to buildings in the Caribbean nation, authorities said.

The epicenter of the quake was located about 19 kilometers (12 miles) northwest of the city of Port-de-Paix, the US Geological Survey reported.

Government spokesman Eddy Jackson Alexis told news agency AFP that 11 people were so far reported dead, adding that a disaster response task force had been set up.

The quake struck at 8:10 pm (0010 GMT Sunday) at a shallow depth of 11.7 kilometers.

The tremor was felt in the capital Port-de-Prince, sparking emotion among residents still shell-shocked from the massive 2010 earthquake that left at least 200,000 people dead and 300,000 more wounded.

President Jovenel Moise took to Twitter to urge Haitians to "remain calm," and said local and regional authorities were assisting those in need.

"The injured are being treated at area hospitals," Haiti's civil protection agency said late Saturday, noting that some of the injuries were sustained when people panicked after the quake.

Images of damaged homes and partially destroyed buildings were circulating on social media, but AFP was not immediately able to confirm their authenticity.

Haiti's Nord-Ouest department is the poorest part of the impoverished country, with many isolated areas due to the dire state of the roads. Port-de-Paix is the capital of the department.



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After Indonesia's Tsunami-Earthquake Disaster, Scientists Look For Cause

Jakarta: Almost a week after a quake-tsunami wreaked devastation in central Indonesia, scientists are zeroing in on what they believe caused the highly unusual natural disaster.

The 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit off Sulawesi island Friday and sent destructive waves charging into the coast, reducing buildings in Palu to rubble and sweeping people to their deaths.

The city was not regarded as being at high-risk of a tsunami and was left grossly unprepared for the catastrophe, which has so far claimed more than 1,400 lives with hundreds more injured and missing. 

Now experts are piecing together the unlikely chain of events which laid waste to Palu.

The quake was a sideways -- rather than vertical -- movement of tectonic plates, seen as unlikely to generate a tsunami.

p3lkbr6"It's very unlikely the earthquake alone could generate a tsunami of that size", tsunami experts have said. 

But after sifting through mounds of data, scientists believe that the powerful tremor occurred over the vast length of a fault line, triggering underwater landslides that caused the tidal waves.

"This is an earthquake that is not the standard mechanism to generate a tsunami," Costas Synolakis, director of the University of Southern California's Tsunami Research Center, told AFP.

"It's fairly rare."

When the monster waves did roll in, their force was intensified as they rushed down a narrow bay into Palu.

In recent years Sumatra has been the main focus of authorities' concern when it comes to tsunamis as Aceh, on the island's northern tip, was devastated by a deadly quake-triggered tsunami in 2004. 

Officials fear another major quake and tsunami are inevitable at some point on the highly volatile fault line off the island's west coast, meaning there was greater vigilance towards the threat than in Sulawesi.

Apart from a handful of tsunami experts, few seemed worried that the fault line that cut through Palu would produce a tsunami, particularly as it is what is known as a "strike-slip" fault, where tectonic plates move sideways. 

In the Aceh tsunami and the majority of others, destructive waves were generated by a violent upward thrust of the Earth's crust, not a sideways movement.

But such was the force of the quake off Sulawesi and the aftershocks that followed, one or more underwater landslides are believed to have occurred that displaced huge quantities of water and sent waves barrelling into the coast.

'Have to learn from this'

"There is reasonable confidence that this tsunami was triggered at least partially by a landslide," Adam Switzer, a tsunami expert from Nanyang Technological University's Earth Observatory of Singapore, told AFP.

"It's very unlikely the earthquake alone could generate a tsunami of that size."

Even before the tsunami hit, the quake and the aftershocks that followed caused widespread devastation along the Sulawesi coast, with many buildings left in ruins and huge cracks ripped in roads. 

But with officials not expecting such a catastrophic event in the area, Palu seemed ill-prepared. 

A tsunami alert was issued at the national level when the quake hit but was lifted soon afterwards and it is not clear if there was an effective mechanism to relay the warning to people on the ground in Sulawesi. 

And the city's tide-monitoring station, which could have detected the destructive waves, was broken on the day, authorities have admitted.

But while many in Indonesia were surprised that the disaster hit Palu, scientists say there are other examples of such quakes. 

Of about 35 tsunamis documented since 1992, four are believed to have been caused by quake-triggered undersea landslides, but none were in Indonesia, according to Synolakis.

Despite the criticism that authorities were unprepared, seismologists have been more forgiving -- they say the chain of events was so complicated it would have been hard for even advanced warning systems to detect the tsunami.

"This is something the automated systems could not really anticipate," Synolakis said. 

Switzer said and his colleagues were working flat out to figure out exactly what happened, and it would likely be a long process.

"We really need to make sure that we understand this event, because we have to learn from this," he said.

The Indonesia Earthquake-Tsunami Disaster In Numbers

Jakarta: Here are the latest figures highlighting the scale of devastation wrought by Indonesia's earthquake and tsunami:

The dead, the wounded
So far Indonesian authorities have counted 1,407 dead from the double disaster on Sulawesi island, a toll expected to rise as they reach outlying areas. Some 519 victims have already been buried.

Rescuers are searching for what they believe are 152 people still trapped under rubble. 

Among the survivors, 70,821 people have been displaced and are now being housed at 141 locations.

The race is on to get them food and other essential supplies. But the scale of the problem may be much bigger than that. 

The United Nations' disaster relief agency says up to 191,000 people are in urgent need of assistance, with more than 934 communities likely affected.

The World Health Organization estimates that 310,000 people have been affected at the quake's epicentre in Donggala regency, along with 350,000 in neighbouring Palu.

The road to recovery will be long. More than 600 schools and tens of thousands of homes will have to be patched up or rebuilt, a task made more difficult by more than 350 aftershocks.

Security forces
Indonesia's military has taken the lead in the recovery effort, flying in supplies and evacuating survivors on C130 Hercules transport planes. Among those evacuated are 120 foreigners -- two less than originally thought -- including 32 from Thailand and 19 from Germany.

In total the government has deployed 3,169 military personnel as well as 2,033 police officers.

They are being called on to keep the peace, with looting leading to at least 65 arrests.

The military will be assisted in the relief effort by international organisations and at least 29 countries who have offered everything from sarongs to geospatial mapping services.

Singapore has also offered two Hercules, South Korea two more, the United Kingdom one and Japan two.

According to the United Nations' estimates responders will need to supply 571,000 litres of water a day -- or enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every four days -- and 659,000 square metres of shelter, around one and a half times the size of Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

They will also have to provide the region with around 401 million calories' worth of food a day, or the equivalent of around 1.8 million Big Macs.

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In Indonesia Disaster Aftermath, People Yell "Tsunami" During Aftershocks

Jakarta, Indonesia: The death toll from twin disasters on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, a major earthquake and the tsunami that followed, jumped to more than 800 on Sunday as rescue workers began to take stock of the wreckage - pulling out survivors buried under the rubble from a collapsed hotel, treating patients in tents, and racing to get food and water to survivors.

Most of those killed were in the badly hit city of Palu, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency, said in a news conference Sunday. But just 11 deaths were reported from Donggala, a town of 300,000 that has been largely cut off from rescuers, with poor communications. Officials have warned that the death toll could rise to the thousands.

"The death toll is believed to be still increasing since many bodies were still under the wreckage" and others were out of reach, Nugroho said. The dead, he said, either drowned when the tsunami hit or were killed by collapsed buildings and rubble.

Photos on his Twitter page account show bodies lined up in body bags, as police begin the grim task of identifying them and reporting the deaths to families. Victims are being buried in mass graves, but all victims will later be "buried properly," Nugroho said.

A 7.5-magnitude earthquake triggered the massive tsunami on Friday evening that crashed into Palu, Donggala and the surrounding settlements. Officials on Sunday shared chilling videos and photos on social media of land "liquefaction" in the wake of the disaster, where the soil turns into something akin to quicksand and drags buildings along with it.

Even as relief efforts were underway, questions remained about the apparent failure of an early warning system and a tsunami alert that was quickly dropped by the Indonesian geophysics agency.

In Palu city, rescue teams were evacuating almost 50 people trapped in the ruins of the Roa-Roa Hotel, a 50-room, eight-story hotel that collapsed after the earthquake. Several were pulled out alive, and rescuers could hear the screams and cries of others throughout the night, and lights shining from cellphones underneath the rubble. A correspondent for a local newspaper said on his Facebook page that at least three other hotels with guests in it have also collapsed. Heavy equipment able to move rubble was on its way to the city.

Traumatized victims, many of whom were sleeping in tents and being treated for injuries outside their homes, continued to be shaken by aftershocks. At least 200 have hit the area since the quake, according to local officials.

Whenever there are aftershocks, people have "become panicked, running away with some yelling 'Tsunami!'," said Radika Pinto, a manager in Palu for World Vision, a Christian aid group.

Hungry survivors have been looting unstable shopping centers for food, clothing and water. Adding to the chaos, local media has reported that a prison wall collapsed, setting free hundreds of prisoners inside.

The head of Palu Penitentiary, Adhi Yan Ricoh, told Indonesian magazine Tempo that more than half of the 560 inmates at the prison escaped.

"At that time, the electricity went out, and there were only a few officers," Adhi said. "They also panicked and tried to save themselves."

Nugroho, the disaster agency's spokesman, said a Hercules C-130 plane was deployed to the area to evacuate the hordes of people racing to get out of the city. Water, he added, was an urgent need.

"The water turned turbid, and cannot be consumed. Clean water is an urgent need for the people of Palu," he said.

Thousands of homes, hotels, shopping centers, hospitals and other public facilities were damaged, Nugroho said. Hospital patients in Palu are being treated outside to avoid the danger of potential aftershocks.

International relief agencies were just starting to reach the area on Sunday, after hours-long overnight drives through landslide-prone areas and badly damaged roads. Dozens of calls made to residents and hotels in Palu were unsuccessful, an indication that widespread communications outages continue there.

Nugroho blamed the rising death toll on a lack of early warnings and "limited shelter and spatial planning."

"There is no sound of siren," he said. Hundreds of people who were gathered on the beach for a festival didn't know there was tsunami risk, he said.

The head of Indonesia's geophysics agency, Dwikorita Karnawati, said her agency immediately issued a tsunami warning after the earthquake. The agency estimated the tsunami would occur at 5:22 p.m. local time. But it ended the tsunami warning at 5:36 p.m., prompting criticism that the warning was lifted too soon. Officials say the tsunami had struck by the time the alert was removed.

"We ended the tsunami warning when the tsunami happened," Karnawati said.

Videos circulated online showed residents still milling around the beach, unconcerned, as those on higher ground tried to warn them.

Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

In December 2004, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake off Sumatra in western Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

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At least 35 people killed in Genoa bridge collapse: Italian police

MILAN (Reuters) - At least 35 people were killed when a bridge collapsed in the Italian port city of Genoa, police said on Wednesday after firemen worked through the night looking for any survivors buried under the rubble.

“The latest official number is 35 but we can’t rule out it could rise further,” a spokeswoman for the police in Genoa said.

A 50-meter (160-foot) high section of the Morandi bridge, including a tower that anchored several stays, crashed down with as many as 35 vehicles driving on it on Tuesday. Huge slabs of reinforced concrete plunged onto two warehouses, train tracks and a riverbed.

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Tourists flee Indonesia's Lombok island after quake kills 91

MATARAM, Indonesia (Reuters) - Rescue workers found chaos and destruction across the Indonesian resort island of Lombok on Monday after a magnitude 6.9 earthquake killed at least 91 people and prompted an exodus of tourists rattled by the second powerful quake in a week.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said the death toll was expected to rise as information came in from areas where thousands of buildings collapsed or were badly damaged, especially in the north, the quake’s epicenter.

Power and communications were cut in some areas of Lombok, and the military said it was sending in a vessel with medical aid, supplies and logistical support for the island.

The Indonesian Red Cross said in a Tweet that it helped a woman give birth after the quake at a health post in the north. One of the names she gave the baby boy was ‘Gempa’, which means earthquake.


Lombok was hit a week earlier, on July 29, by a 6.4 magnitude quake that killed 17 people, injured hundreds and briefly stranded several hundred trekkers on the slopes of a volcano.

The Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG) said that more than 120 aftershocks were recorded after Sunday evening’s quake, whose magnitude the U.S. Geological Survey revised down to 6.9 from an original 7.0.

There were no foreigners among the dead and the number of injured stood at 209, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference.

The tremor was so powerful it was felt on the neighboring island of Bali where, according to BNPB, two people died.

Indonesia sits on the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes. In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.


Long lines formed at the airport of Lombok’s main town, Mataram, as foreign visitors cut their holidays short.

The Garuda Indonesia airline said it was adding extra flights from Lombok to help tourists leave.

AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes tweeted that the budget airline would try to lay on extra flights, while Indonesian budget carriers Lion Air and Citilink said there had been a jump in demand for outbound flights from Lombok and Bali.

“I was at the rooftop of my hotel and the building started swaying very hard. It felt like two meters to the left, then two meters to the right, I could not stand up,” said Gino Poggiali, a 43-year-old Frenchman, who was with his wife and two children, at the Lombok airport.

His wife Maude, 44, said the family were on Bali for the first quake and Lombok for the second.

“This is it for me in Indonesia,” she said. “Next time we will stay in France or somewhere close.”

Carlos Romartinez, a 24-year-old Spaniard who was also waiting for a flight out of Lombok, said he had decided to head instead to the island of Flores to the east.

“All the activities are shut down. We can’t dive, we can’t do anything so we will go to another island,” he said.

Dutch tourist Marc Ganbuwalba injured his knee as a stampede of diners rushed from a restaurant after the quake.

“We are cutting short our holiday because I can’t walk and we’re just not in the mood anymore, more in the mood to see our loved ones,” said the 26-year-old, sitting on a trolley with his leg bandaged.

“We are just thankful to god and also to the hotel staff who really helped us. Some of them said their own houses had been destroyed but they were still helping us.”


About 1,000 foreign and domestic tourists were evacuated in boats from the three Gili islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, BNPB spokesman Nugroho said via Twitter.

He posted a video showing a crowd of hundreds of people crammed on a beach at one of the Gilis, apparently waiting to be ferried back to the main island.

Singapore Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who was on the 10th floor of a hotel in Mataram when the quake struck, said that his room shook violently and walls cracked.

“It was quite impossible to stand up. Heard screams. Came out, and made my way down a staircase, while building was still shaking. Power went out for a while. Lots of cracks, fallen doors,” he wrote on Facebook.

His government issued a travel notice, advising citizens to defer travel to Lombok and urging those currently there to leave.

Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton was on the 12th floor of a Lombok hotel at the time of the quake. “We were knocked certainly to the floor,” he told Australian radio. “We were pretty lucky to get out. Everyone’s a bit shaken but all well.”


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Plane with 101 on board crashes in Mexico, everyone survives

An Aeromexico passenger plane with over 100 people on board has crashed after taking off from the Guadalupe Victoria International Airport near the city of Durango, Mexico.

Eighty people have been injured in the crash, the Durango state civil protection spokesman has said. The state governor says none were killed. According to the Mexican transport minister, the plane had 97 passengers and four crew members on board.

@Rescate_Condor Accidente de una aereonave de la línea Aeroméxico al realizar el despegue en el Aeropuerto Internacional Guadalupe Victoria, ubicado en la ciudad de Durango. Servicios de emergencia auxilian a lesionados.

18 people who suffered injuries in the crash have been taken to hospital, Durango’s Health Ministry reported.

Two of the injured remain in critical condition, according to the Health Ministry.

Images of the scene published on social media show a plume of smoke rising from the ground near the tail of a plane with the Aeromexico logo on it.

A video has emerged showing firefighters hosing down the smoldering aircraft as they attempt to extinguish the fire.

Bad weather might have played a part in the plane’s hard landing. The aircraft was taking off in heavy rain, the governor of Durango state Rosas Aispuro told local broadcaster MVS News.

Passengers’ accounts seem to confirm that stormy weather might be to blame for the crash.

“The storm was very strong, there was no visibility, we took off and we fell,” Jaqueline Flores, who was on board of the ill-fated flight, told MVS News.

Mexican airport operator OMA, which runs the Durango airport, has named“adverse weather conditions” as a preliminary cause of the accident. Operations at the airport have been temporarily halted.

Aeromexico has confirmed that the crash of flight 2431, bound for Mexico City, took place shortly after takeoff from the Guadalupe Victoria International Airport. The plane was an Embraer 190 with a capacity for 100 passengers.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has instructed federal agencies, including the Secretariat of National Defense, to attend to the plane crash.

The plane has been in service for 10 years and was bought by Aeromexico in 2014. Before that, it belonged to US Airways and another US airline, Republic Airways, according to the Airfleets database.

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