The bodies of a mother and her six-week-old baby are among the latest to be discovered under a sea of mud in Indonesia, one week after a major earthquake and tsunami wreaked devastation on the islands.
Husnul Hidayat was found clutching her daughter, Aisah, to her chest after her home in the Petobo neighbourhood of Sulawesi island was completely wiped out. Her brother, Ichsan Hidayat, said his sister and niece “deserved better”. He added: “I prayed that they are in a better place.”
Some 1,571 people are known to have died during and after the disaster, and the death toll is expected to rise. Most of the dead have been found in the coastal city of Palu. Figures for more remote areas, some of which have been cut off by destroyed roads and landslides, continue to trickle in.
Hasnah, 44, also a resident of Petobo, has trouble remembering all the relatives she’is trying to find in the expanse of mud and debris.
“More than half of my family are gone,” Hasnah said, sobbing. “I can’t even count how many. Two of my children are gone, my cousins, my sister, my brother-in-law and their children. All gone.”
Homes were torn apart, shunted hundreds of metres and sucked into the ground which liquefied when the 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck. Some 70,000 people have been left homeless.
“The earth was like a blender, blending everything in its way,” said Hasnah, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.
Hasnah said she has enough food and water but she’s furious that a search and rescue operation in her area only began on Thursday.
“They said they would come with the heavy machines but they didn’t,” she said. “They lied.”
Tired of waiting for help, villagers themselves have been searching, Hasnah said.
“We’ve marked the possible bodies with sticks. You can see a foot sticking out, but there’s no one here to dig them out.”
Rescue workers retrieved several bodies later on Friday.
As the sun set, a mass prayer ceremony was held by Palu’s seafront that was scoured by the tsunami.
“We pray for the ones who have died and for those yet to be found,” the imam said.
Following the eruption of the Mount Soputan volcano, fears grew that ash from the blast could hamper recovery efforts, although the mountain was several hundred miles from the areas worst affected by the earthquake.
The first signs of recovery are evident in Palu. Electricity has been restored and some shops and banks have reopened and aid and fuel are arriving.
Vice president Jusuf Kalla, visiting the disaster zone, said recovery would be completed in two years, beginning with a two-month emergency response phase when everyone who lost their house would get temporary shelter.
Doctors have been flocking to help from other parts of Indonesia.
The Budi Agung hospital has 134 beds with about 20 more set up in a tent outside, all full. A hospital ship is also due to arrive.
Doctors said many patients have been at high risk of infection because they were buried in mud.
Rescue workers are pushing into outlying districts cut off for days. Villagers rushed a Red Cross helicopter that landed at Sirenja village near the quake’s epicentre, about 45 miles north of Palu, to drop off supplies.
Some earthquake damage was evident but the coast did not appear to have been battered by the tsunami.
Sulawesi is one of the archipelago nation’s five main islands, and like the others, is exposed to frequent earthquakes and 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.