French rescuers search for bodies in debris of Indonesian quake disaster

Air Loadmaster Leading Aircraftman Toni Thompson helps a couple and their baby on board an RNZAF Hercules in the earthquake-damaged Indonesian city of Palu

Indonesian soldiers help offload the 10.6 tonnes of supplies brought by a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft to Palu, the Indonesian port city devastated by a 7.5-magnitude quake and tsunami on 28 September. "These two brothers were hugging each other".

As searchers continued to dig through rubble on Sunday, central Sulawesi governor Loki Djanggola said local officials were meeting religious groups and families of victims to seek their consent to turn neighbourhoods wiped out by liquefaction into mass graves. "We're still scared but we pray because we believe God will help us", said the woman, Eliwati, who wore a bright blue dress with an ethnic Toraja pattern, a splash of color in a bleak landscape.

Petobo, a cluster of villages, was subsumed when vibrations from the 7.5-magnitude quake turned soil to quicksand - a process known as liquefaction.

"It would be a miracle to actually find someone still alive", Muhammad Syaugi, the head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency said yesterday. Some limited searching might still be undertaken but large-scale searches with many personnel and heavy equipment would cease, he said.

Philip Besson, a member of the French organization Pompiers de l'urgence, said the team "detected the presence of a victim" in the wreckage of the Mercure Hotel but wasn't able to say if the person is conscious.

A Japanese Self Defense Force plane landed at Palu's airport Saturday morning.

Indonesian soldiers unloaded about 500 tents, 80 generators and 20 water filters packed in boxes that carried the words "from the Japanese people".

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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"When we can no longer do it ourselves, we leave it to Allah", Gopal, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, added.

People living in the camp said two residents died in collapsing houses in the village. They said they had clean water and noodles but not much else. "All along the roads toward here, they were looted by outsiders", said Bahamid Fawzi.

"The building survived the quake, but we don't know how safe it is", said Satria Hamid, a spokesperson for the Transmart Carrefour supermarket. Electricity has been restored and some shops and banks have reopened and aid and fuel are arriving.

"We always say for disaster infrastructure that you save $7 for every $1 investment you make, so this is needed and the cost is nothing compared to other infrastructure", he said.

The quake and tsunami swept away buildings along miles (kilometers) of coastline and knocked out power and communications for several days.

Indonesia had been reluctant to accept outside help at first but as the scale of the disaster became clear, the government agreed to allow in foreign aid.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says $50.5 million is required to deliver "immediate, life-saving" aid.

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