JAKARTA – The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting on Friday the areas affected the most by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami on the Indonesian island of Salawesi, coinciding with the last day of the search mission for some 5,000 reported missing after the disaster.
Accompanied by Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla, Guterres examined the damage caused by the disaster in the devastated city of Palu.
More than 75 percent of the 2,073 fatalities, according to the latest official data, occurred in this city where giant tsunami waves caused havoc to areas located hundreds of meters from the coast.
The UN chief also plans to visit to the neighborhood of Balaroa in Palu, where thousands of homes were swallowed up by land liquefaction, a phenomenon that occurs when a strong shaking, such as that of an earthquake, liquefies soft soil, making the affected terrain sink and release waves of mud.
According to local estimates, some 5,000 people remain missing in Balaroa and the town of Petobo.
Guterres was also scheduled to meet some of the 82,000 displaced people during his visit to the shelters set up by the authorities, and inspect the distribution of humanitarian aid before leaving the country.
On Thursday, the authorities extended the search and rescue mission for survivors for another 24 hours, which will conclude at the end of Friday.
A team of 15 rescue personnel will remain in the area waiting for local requests to evacuate victims, said Yusuf Latif, spokesperson for the national search and rescue agency in Palu.
Rescue teams have not found a single survivor under the rubble for more than a week. Indonesian authorities said they will turn the most affected areas into memorial parks.
The catastrophe on Sulawesi Island is the worst experienced by Indonesia since a tsunami swept the western province of Aceh in 2004, killing 167,000 people.
The Indonesian archipelago is situated within the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire,” an area known for its intense seismic and volcanic activity, which produce about 7,000 earthquakes each year, most of which are of moderate magnitude.