The death toll from the earthquake and tsunami that struck Indonesia‘s Sulawesi island has increased to 1,763 – with more than 5,000 feared missing, officials have announced.
Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said authorities were trying to confirm the number still missing in several villages obliterated when the quake caused loose soil to liquefy, sucking houses into deep mud and burying occupants.
The number of fatalities is likely to increase once the level of damage has been assessed in rural areas, the agency said.
Officials also said they will stop searching for the bodies of victims among the ruins of buildings.
“Evacuation stops on 11 October,” Mr Nugroho told a news briefing in Jakarta on Sunday, using an Indonesian word that applies to the search and retrieval of both living and dead people.
“Victims who have not been found are declared missing,” he added.
Some limited searching might still be undertaken but large-scale searches with many personnel and heavy equipment would cease, he said.
The city of Palu and surrounding districts in Central Sulawesi province were struck by the disaster on 28 September, affecting up to a million people.
International aid has finally begun to reach affected areas, more than a week after the 7.5-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami first hit.
The military dropped supplies from helicopters in places and a large Red Cross ship docked at a port in the region.
In the dusty one-road village of Pewunu, excited children shouted “Red Cross, Red Cross” as one of the aid group’s medical teams arrived.
An RAF aircraft carrying 17.5 tonnes of UK aid landed in Indonesia on Saturday – part of a £3m relief package offered by the government to help those affected by the disaster.
Supplies sent to Sulawesi include more than 1,000 shelter kits and almost 300 hygiene kits.
Indonesia has often been reluctant to be seen as relying on outside help to cope with disasters.
The government shunned foreign aid this year when earthquakes struck the island of Lombok, but it has accepted help from abroad for Sulawesi.
Additional reporting by agencies
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