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Indonesia quake: officials fear 5,000 missing

The Associated Press

A Christian wipes tears from her eyes as she attends church at the earthquake and tsunami-hit town of Palu, Indonesia, on Sunday.

The Associated Press PALU, Indonesia (AP) — Christians dressed in their tidiest clothes flocked to Sunday sermons in the earthquake and tsunami damaged Indonesian city of Palu, seeking answers as the death toll from the twin disasters breached 1,700 and officials said they feared more than 5,000 others could be missing.

Indonesia’s disaster agency said the number of dead had climbed to 1,763, mostly in Palu. Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said many more people could be buried, especially in the Palu neighborhoods of Petobo and Balaroa, where more than 3,000 homes were damaged or sucked into deep mud when the Sept. 28 quake caused loose soil to liquefy.

“Based on reports from village chiefs in Balaroa and Petobo, some 5,000 people have not been found. Our workers on the ground are trying to confirm this,” he said at a news briefing in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.

Nugroho said that efforts to retrieve decomposed bodies in deep, soft mud were getting tougher and that some people may have fled or been rescued and evacuated. More than 8,000 either injured or vulnerable residents have been flown or shipped out of Palu, while others could have left by land, he said.

Officially, Nugroho said only 265 people are confirmed missing and 152 others still buried under mud and rubble, nine days after the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and powerful tsunami hit Palu and surrounding areas.

The government targets to end search operations by Thursday, nearly two weeks after the disaster, at which time those unaccounted for will be declared missing and considered dead, Nugroho said.

In Palu on Sunday, at least 200 people, including soldiers, filled the gray pews of the Protestant Manunggal church for a service.

They sang as a young girl in a black and white dress with a red bow danced in the aisle, prayed and listened to a 30-minute sermon from the pastor, Lucky Malonda. A woman in the front pew wept.

Min Kapala, a 49-year-old teacher, said she came to the city of more than 25 churches from an outlying area because her usual house of worship was destroyed and liquefaction moved a different piece of ground to its location.

“I’m here at this particular church because my own church is no more; it’s leveled, and on its location there’s a corn plant,” she said. “That was very strange to me.”Speech

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