Indonesian authorities are preparing a mass grave for some of the hundreds of victims of Friday’s earthquake and tsunami on the island of Sulawesi.
Heavy equipment has been brought in to dig the 100-metre-long pit near the worst-hit city of Palu, according to the chief of Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency, Willem Rampangilei.
It will be 10 metres wide and able to take 300 bodies – and it can be enlarged if necessary.
Religious custom in majority Muslim Indonesia calls for burials soon after death, typically within one day. In addition, bodies of the dead are already starting to decompose in the tropical heat.
Military and commercial aircraft were delivering aid and supplies to the region on Monday. But there was a desperate need for more heavy equipment to reach possible survivors buried in collapsed buildings, including an eight-storey hotel in Palu where voices have been heard beneath the rubble.
Late on Sunday, a woman was pulled alive from the debris of the city’s Roa Roa Hotel, where up to 60 people were believed trapped. Hundreds of people gathered at the wrecked Tatura Mall searching for loved ones.
The death toll from Friday’s magnitude-7.5 quake and tsunami is nearing 1000 and there is still chaos in the Central Sulawesi region that bore the brunt of the impact. The death toll is expected to rise as connections to outlying areas are restored, with some reports suggesting it might go as high as 2000.
VIDEO: Hundreds of desperate people in the tsunami-struck Indonesian city of Palu loot supermarkets and petrol stations, as an initial trickle of aid into the devastated area failed to relieve an acute shortage of water, food and fuel pic.twitter.com/1OfX4HTuyP
— AFP news agency (@AFP) September 30, 2018
“We don’t know for sure what is the impact,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency, told a media conference.
“The death toll is believed to be still increasing since many bodies were still under the wreckage, while many have not been reached.”
Three French citizens, one South Korean, and one Malaysian were still missing, Mr Nugroho said. No Australians were on the list of foreigners.
.@PlanIndonesia’s Dini Widiastuti: There are still people trapped in buildings at this time. We are really concerned about the children in particular, the young ones separated from their families.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) October 1, 2018
Indonesia said it would accept international aid as it struggles to deal with the aftermath of the twin disasters.
Authorities say food, water, medicine, tents, medicine and baby supplies are in short supply. They have reportedly given permission for survivors to loot what they need from local shops and promised to reimburse business owners for their losses.
Many survivors have been left with only the clothes they were wearing at the time the earthquake struck, followed within half an hour by the tsunami.
Even those whose houses have not been destroyed are sleeping on the streets as they are too scared to return home.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was ready to help if asked.
“This is just a terrible tragedy,” said. “I’ve been in direct contact with President [Joko] Widodo about this. Australia stands ready to assist as is needed.”
Mr Widodo visited the area on Sunday to inspect the damage and the rescue efforts.
He said rescue teams were struggling to recover the victims because of a shortage of heavy equipment.
“Grieve for the people of Central Sulawesi, we all grieve together,” he tweeted.
The Indonesian military was sending aircraft with aid from Jakarta and other cities, authorities said.
Palu’s airport was damaged in the quake, but has reopened for limited commercial flights.