Indonesia tsunami death toll to exceed 2,000 with up to 5,000 still missing

The death toll following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia is expected to soar past 2,000 – with thousands still missing.

The official search for bodies is expected to end later this week – but the decision by the state disaster agency has been slammed by families of those still missing.

Relatives reacted with anger, sadness and resignation following the move to scale down the search.

The 7.5-magnitude quake on September 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 neighbourhoods.

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

CNN have quoted a regional spokesman saying as many as 5,000 are missing.

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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 neighbourhood 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 neighbourhood 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 October 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 centre.

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 neighbourhood 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.”

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