Torrential rains hamper hunt for Indonesia quake survivors

Torrential monsoon rains hampered the hunt Sunday for anyone still buried alive under buildings flattened by a powerful earthquake on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, after the huge tremor killed at least 81 and left thousands homeless.

Excavators and cranes were deployed across the devastated seaside city of Mamuju, where buildings were reduced to a tangled mass of twisted metal and chunks of concrete, including a hospital and the regional governor’s office.

It was unclear how many people — dead or alive — could still be under mountains of debris in the aftermath of Friday’s 6.2-magnitude quake.

“The rain poses risks because damaged buildings could collapse if it gets too heavy…and aftershocks could move them too,” said rescuer Octavianto.

Excavating debris too fast with heavy equipment could crush and kill any buried survivors, he added.

“All the victims we’ve found so far were dead,” said Octavianto, 37, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

“It is most likely any more victims are already dead if 24 hours has passed,” he added.

Scores of rescuers combed through the destruction, filling body bags with corpses, while police on Sunday deployed a K-9 unit of sniffer dogs to help in the search at a badly damaged hospital.

“We also use our own sense of smell to find possible victims,” said rescuer Kustang Firman at the hospital scene.

“If there’s a strong scent (of decay), we’ll focus on that spot.” (AFP | Andi Hajramurni / Olagondronk)