An Indonesian official said that as many as 5,000 bodies could be buried in the mud—more than one week after a devastating 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit near the island of Sulawesi.
As of Oct. 9, officials said that 1,944 people died in the quake and tsunami, mostly in the city of Palu and outlying areas, CBS News reported.
Willem Rampangilei, head of the National Board for Disaster Management, told the outlet that as many as 5,000 could be dead in Balaroa and Petobo, which are neighborhoods in Palu.
“Based on reports from village chiefs in Balaroa and Petobo, some 5,000 people have not been found. Our workers on the ground are trying to confirm this,” disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Oct. 7, NBC News reported
The quake, which hit on Sept. 28, caused severe instances of liquefaction in the area, turning the soil into liquid. Video footage (as seen at the top) showed entire buildings being sucked into the earth or “sliding” on its surface.
“It is impossible to rebuild in areas with high liquefaction risk such as Petobo and Balaroa,” he said. Those villages, he said, will have to be relocated.
Meanwhile, heavy machinery and equipment cannot access the areas of Petobo and Balaroa because of the wet, loose soil.
“Liquefaction occurs when loose sandy soils with shallow groundwater are subjected to sudden loading such as shaking from an earthquake,” said Jonathan Stewart, who is professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of California in Los Angeles, according to CNN.
“During the earthquake, water pressure is generated in the soil, which causes a dramatic loss of strength,” said Stewart. “The strength loss can be so great that the soil behaves almost like a liquid.”
Liquefaction was reported in other earthquakes, such as the one in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011 and the March 2011 Japanese earthquake that left more than 10,000 people dead.
Aside from the liquefaction, tsunami waves hammered Palu and outlying areas.
In 2004, a large earthquake off the island of Sumatra spawned a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries. Most of the deaths were reported in Indonesia.