PALU, Indonesia — Hundreds of Muslim survivors in the Indonesian city of Palu gathered at shattered mosques for Friday prayers, seeking strength to rebuild their lives a week after a powerful earthquake and tsunami killed more than 1,500 people.
Men with skull caps sat on prayer mats in an open field outside the damaged Agung Mosque in Palu, some weeping openly as they reflected on their losses and prayed for their loved ones.
A regular worshipper, Abu Shamsuddin, said he was at a loss for words to describe the horrifying moment when the disasters struck. He said he is clinging to his faith to overcome his grief after one of his sons perished.
“Praise to Allah, one of my sons who worked in a bank was called by Allah. He was buried the day after. I hope my dead son has gone to heaven because he was in the middle of praying. Allah willing, heaven for him. I have faith in that,” he said.
Others braved the scorching sun as they listed to the mosque’s imam exhorting them to be courageous.
Hundreds more, including women, gathered at the Talise beach in Palu where the tsunami struck to pray.
The national disaster agency said the confirmed death toll from last Friday’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake that spawned a tsunami has risen slightly to 1,571.
Volunteers earlier Friday buried more victims in a mass grave after ambulances brought the first group of six remains. One of the volunteers, 48-year-old Asep Junaedi, said 643 people had been buried in the grave so far.
Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a briefing in Jakarta that the search will continue for hundreds more still missing and buried in deep mud and debris from collapsed houses and buildings.
But hopes are dim for any survivors.
Frustrated French rescuers early Friday resumed their search at the Mercure Hotel in Palu but failed to detect the possible sign of life that was picked up by their sensors a day earlier. The sensors can identify breathing and heartbeats, but gas leaks and other factors can result in false positives.
“We are perplexed and frustrated mostly. We strongly believed in it yesterday. Now we have nothing at all. … We tried everything and have no response,” said Philippe Besson, president of the International Emergency Firefighters team.
Local rescuers were continuing to dig at the collapsed four-star hotel. The French rescuers said on their Facebook page that 40 people including six workers are missing from the hotel.
Thousands of others have been injured and more than 70,000 evacuated to shelters and makeshift tents that have sprouted across Palu, the provincial capital of Sulawesi island where most deaths occurred, and its surrounding areas. After days of initial chaos and looting by desperate survivors, some stability has returned to Palu with some shops reopened and electricity restored in some parts of the city.
Nugroho said some 67,000 military and police personnel have been deployed to the disaster areas to ensure law and order, as well as to accelerate distribution of aid to survivors in outlying areas. Ships and more than two dozen military transport planes, including ones from Japan, New Zealand and India, have arrived in Palu carrying hundreds of tons of food and badly needed supplies and heavy equipment.
Officials have listed tents, water treatment equipment, electric generators and disinfectants to fog campsite areas to prevent disease as immediate needs.
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.