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Indonesia earthquake: Soil turned to liquid and swallowed whole houses, volunteers say

“The situation in the affected areas is nightmarish,” a local Red Cross manager said.

Collapsed building in Indonesia after Friday's earthquake.
Collapsed building in Indonesia after Friday's earthquake.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

INDONESIAN RED CROSS rescue teams have reported incidents of “liquefaction” following Friday’s earthquake and tsunami disaster.

The 7.5 magnitude earthquake was centred along the coast of the island of Sulawesi about 80 kilometres north of the city of Palu. 

The disaster is believed to have killed at least 844 people and displaced 59,000. 

Indonesian Red Cross rescue teams and government authorities have now reached the outskirts of the Donggala district, the area that was closest to the epicentre and which is believed to have suffered the worst damage.

Red Cross volunteers have reported incidents of ‘liquefaction’, a phenomenon often observed by seismologists, where saturated soil has turned liquid and swallowed whole houses.

“The situation in the affected areas is nightmarish. The city of Palu has been devastated and the first reports out of Donggala indicate that it has also been hit extremely hard by the double disaster,” Jan Gelfand, a local manager with the Red Cross, said. 

“Red Cross and other teams are working round the clock but the biggest challenge at the moment is getting access to all communities, and then bringing large quantities of vital relief supplies into the disaster zone.

Transport links, power and communications are still down.

Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency believes that the final death toll from the earthquake will likely number in the thousands.

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The UN’s relief agency believes that 191,000 people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to an assessment published today.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that the figure includes around 46,000 children and 14,000 elderly Indonesians, many beyond urban areas that are the focus of government recovery efforts.

Additional reporting by AFP.

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