Sulawesi quake: French rescuers search for bodies amid debris

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

NZDF evacuates 120 quake survivors on Hercules aircraft from Palu

The death toll from the quake and tsunami which devastated Indonesia's Sulawesi island has topped 1,700, as officials fear another 5,000 people could be missing.

The 7.5-magnitude quake struck just off the central island of Sulawesi at 18:03 (10:03) on Friday at a depth of 10km (6.2 miles), setting off a tsunami that soon after engulfed Palu with waves of up to 6m.

A team of French rescue experts began hunting through a huge expanse of debris on the outskirts of the Indonesian city of Palu on Saturday, looking for hands, feet or any body parts of quake victims sticking out of the mud.

"They are in great need because the road is cut off and it's accessible only by air", Second Lieutenant Reinaldo Apri said after piloting a helicopter to rugged Lindu district, some 40 kilometres south of Palu.

"It is impossible to rebuild in areas with high liquefaction risk such as Petobo and Balaroa", he said, adding villages there will be relocated.

Those not found by Thursday will be presumed dead, a disaster agency spokesman said.

The disaster struck part of Sulawesi two weeks ago, leaving at least 1,754 dead and another 2,549 injured.

The number of people who were missing or believed to be buried under the debris were 683 and 152 respectively, he said.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi says military transport aircraft from India and Singapore have arrived to help in relief efforts in central Sulawesi, which was hit by a powerful quake and tsunami.

Despite that, Allibert said it had been hard to get permits for Sulawesi. They said they had clean water and noodles but not much else.

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Parker says Australian officials are ready to help the Indonesians transfer the aid further in the disaster zone.

The announcement came after the official death toll from the 7.5 magnitude quake and a tsunami it triggered September 28 rose to 1,763. 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.

He provided the updated figure Sunday at a news conference in Jakarta.

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.

The tens of thousands left homeless by the disaster are scattered across Palu and beyond.

Michael Lesmeister, director of Germany's ISAR-Germany (International Search and Rescue) group, said landing permits for his staff and cargo had come through and, after a three-day wait, they were set to install a water-purification system in Palu. Traumatised survivors are desperate for any help.

A villager carries his belongings at Balaroa village in Poso of Central Sulawesi province, Indonesia, Oct. 8, 2018.

Officials reiterated that the search is expected to end on Thursday. "There are so many corpses around here", said Irwan, 37, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Indonesia has the world's biggest Muslim population but also pockets of Christians, including on Sulawesi, and other religions.

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