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5000 feared missing as search for Indonesia quake victims continues

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Indonesian soldiers unloading supplies brought in by the New Zealanders

According to the Government of Indonesia, the official death toll has reached almost 1,600 people, amid unconfirmed reports that more than 1,000 people have been buried in a housing complex, in the city of Palu, which suffered the full-force of the deadly tsunami wave.

Indonesia's disaster agency says the death toll from the quake and tsunami that struck a central island last week has increased slightly to 1,424.

Despite that, Allibert said it had been hard to get permits for Sulawesi.

Rescuers picking through the grim aftermath of Indonesia's quake-tsunami issued a fresh public health warning Saturday as more decaying corpses were unearthed from beneath the ruined city of Palu.

"Victims who have not been found are declared missing", he said.

The official death toll from the quake and the tsunami it triggered stands at 1,571, but it will certainly rise.

Children in the Indonesian city of Palu began returning to school on Monday to tidy up their classrooms and hopefully see their friends 10 days after a major quake and tsunami struck.

In some areas, rescuers use sniffer dogs to detect victims buried under tons of mud and debris.

The government shunned foreign aid this year when earthquakes struck the island of Lombok but it accepted help from overseas for Sulawesi. To help them, $15 million has already been released from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 11 transport aircraft have been pledged, including two each from Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Malaysia, and one from India.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who arrived Friday in Palu to assess the situation, said it will take at least two years to reconstruct the disaster zone.

Indonesia has often been reluctant to be seen as relying on outside help to cope with disasters.

The lives of many villagers at the epicentre of a quake were spared because they had been terrified by a smaller tremor that hit earlier and had run outside.

Sulawesi is one of Indonesia's five main islands and, like the others, is exposed to frequent earthquakes and tsunamis.

Nugroho said about 67,000 military and police have been deployed to the area to maintain security and accelerate distribution of aid to survivors in outlying areas.

Thousands of people living in tents and shelters in the Indonesian city hit by a powerful natural disaster and tsunami are facing an uncertain future, unsure when they will be able to rebuild. "It would be a miracle to actually find someone still alive", Muhammad Syaugi, the head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency said yesterday.

In coordination with the Government of Indonesia, IOM is preparing to send an aid convoy from the south of the island to the north, where needs are greatest. "Red Cross!" as one of its medical teams arrived. Officials have said that it is not safe for heavy equipment to operate in those areas and that they fear the risk of the spread of disease from decomposed bodies. Officials had initially predicted some 1,000 people were buried beneath the ruins of Palu. Figures for more remote areas, some just re-connected to the outside world by road, are trickling in.

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