Anger, dismay as Indonesia says search for quake victims to end

UK and Indonesian Aid being loaded onto an RAF A400M aircraft in Jakarta Indonesia bound for Balikpapan to be distributed to the earthquake and tsunami hit island of Sulawesi. Friday

Indonesian rescue workers will stop searching for the bodies of victims of an quake and tsunami on the island of Sulawesi on Thursday, the national disaster mitigation agency said on Sunday.

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.

Balaroa was one of the areas particularly hard hit by liquefaction, which turns the ground into a roiling quagmire, destroying houses and dragging people under the mud and debris.

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.

The New Zealand Air Force has flown 120 residents out of the earthquake-ravaged Indonesian city of Palu.

"You have people circling those areas trying to get in but it's literally inaccessible", he said, adding that even standing just 200 metres from the remains of buildings "you can't actually get into those areas because the mud is thigh- or waist-deep".

The twin disasters struck Palu and surrounding districts in Central Sulawesi province on September 28.

Thousands of those still missing are thought to be from the towns of Baleroa and Petobo, which was swept away following the 7.5 magnitude natural disaster and subsequent tsunami last month, leaving mass destruction in its wake.

The most intact structure in the area was a battered two-storey house, pitched over at almost 45 degrees with one side buried and a blue vehicle in the auto port.

"We have vaccinated our teams, but we need to be extra cautious as they are exposed to health hazards".

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"Most of the bodies we have found are not intact, and that poses a danger for the rescuers".

National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 11 transport aircraft have been pledged, including two each from Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Malaysia, and one from India.

Indonesia has often been reluctant to be seen as relying on outside help to cope with disasters.

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

Nugroho said about 67,000 military and police have been deployed to the area to maintain security and accelerate distribution of aid to survivors in outlying areas.

Indonesia sits along the world's most tectonically active region, and its 260 million people are vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

Indonesian police say 92 people have been arrested for looting goods in areas devastated by an quake and tsunami in Central Sulawesi province.

But search efforts are expected to end on Thursday. "I didn't manage to take any valuables but we are alive and that's most important", Yuli, who goes by one name, said on local television. Soldiers unloaded tons of supplies, including medicine and small portable generators, in boxes emblazoned with the Japanese flag and the words "From the People of Japan".

Several non-governmental groups were also arriving. Officials had initially predicted some 1,000 people were buried beneath the ruins of Palu.

Life is on hold for thousands living in tents and shelters in the Indonesian city hit by a powerful natural disaster and tsunami.

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