Each day, dozens of corpses are stuffed into body bags and interred in mass graves. A week in the tropics means that expediency trumps ceremony.
For three days, the national disaster agency put the number of missing at an improbable 113. Suhri Noster Norbertus Sinaga, the spokesman for the National Search and Rescue Agency, said that figure did not correspond with reality, as local officials had not yet provided any population data for affected areas.
Then, on Saturday, the estimate was increased to 256, and that, too, is unlikely to be anywhere near the final number. In just one of the neighborhoods visited by journalists for The New York Times, Petobo in the city of Palu, search and rescue workers estimated that thousands of people lay deep in the earth.
“We have only searched a small part of Petobo, and there are already so many bodies,” said Syamsul Rizal, the head of a national search and rescue unit from southern Sulawesi.
At the collapsed church in Sigi, volunteers from the Indonesian Red Cross dug their shovels into layers of mud and rubble to extract the bodies. So far, 36 people, mostly children, have been confirmed killed when an earthquake-induced phenomenon called liquefaction transformed loose soil into a land tsunami.
The body of one girl at the Bible camp, Resky Senolingga, 15, was discovered nearly 10 miles away on the beach in Palu. No one is sure how she got there.
Nearly 60 children and teachers were still missing from the Christian camp, the Indonesian Red Cross said. As of Friday, their staff had only reached 7 of the 15 subdistricts in Sigi — and the remaining eight were the more difficult to get to.