Grim mass burial begins as 100m-long grave is dug for Indonesia tsunami victims

A mass burial has begun as a 100m long grave is dug for more than a thousand victims of the Indonesian tsunami.

Devastated relatives are searching through body bags and in morgues for their loved ones as mothers and fathers don’t know what has happened to their children.

The confirmed death toll of 844 looks certain to rise as rescuers reached devastated outlying communities hit on Friday by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami waves as high as 20 feet.

The burial today began with teams of workers, faces covered by masks, laying 18 body bags in a trench, according to reports.

In the hills over Palu, volunteers have dug a 100m long grave, preparing to lay 1,300 victims to rest, the Guardian reports.

It is understood that the mass burial must happen as soon as possible for ‘health and religious reasons’.

Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said: "Today we will start the mass burial of victims, to avoid the spread of disease."

Dwi Haris was caught up in the earthquake and suffered a broken back and shoulder. He told the Guardian: "I heard my wife cry for help, but then silence.

"I don’t know what happened to her and my child. I hope they are safe."

Others desperate to find family members have turned to outdoor morgues, where bodies lay in the hot sun, waiting to be claimed and identified.

In a fishing village in Donggala, Indonesia, family members also searched for each other after homes collapsed.

Andi Rainaldi and his wife Flarahanie told ABC news not a single house was left standing in Boya.

Seven of Andi’s extended family disappeared – including his young son, whose body he later identified in a local mosque which has turned into a temporary morgue.

"I couldn’t even identify my son by his face, only by his clothes," Mr Rainaldi said.

"We found him physically unrecognisable."

Bodies lay on the ground in the mosque, wrapped in sheets.

Indonesian authorities are scrambling today to get aid and rescue equipment into quake-hit Sulawesi island, while shaken survivors streamed away from their ruined homes in search of food and shelter.

Accounts filtering out of remote areas brought more news of devastation, including the deaths of 34 children at a Christian study camp.

Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of several hotels and a mall in the small city of Palu, 1,500 km northeast of Jakarta, with hundreds more were feared buried in landslides that engulfed villages.

President Joko Widodo told reporters getting those people out was a priority.

"The evacuation is not finished yet, there are many places where the evacuation couldn’t be done because of the absence of heavy equipment, but last night equipment started to arrive," Widodo said.

"We’ll send as much food supplies as possible today with Hercules planes, directly from Jakarta," he said, referring to C-130 military transport aircraft.

The disaster agency said later more heavy equipment and personnel were needed to recover bodies.

One woman was recovered alive from ruins overnight in the Palu neighbourhood of Balaroa, where houses were swallowed up when the earthquake caused soil liquefaction, the national rescue agency said.

Aid worker Lian Gogali, who had reached Donggala district by motorcycle, said hundreds of people facing a lack of food and medicine were trying to get out but evacuation teams had yet to arrive and roads were blocked.

Indonesian Red Cross spokeswoman Aulia Arriani said the situation in another of the affected districts, Sigi, was dire.

"My volunteers found 34 bodies buried under tsunami debris… missing children who had been doing a bible camp," she said.

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