Indonesia quake, tsunami toll reaches 1,649

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At the SMP Negeri 15 Palu middle school, fewer than 50 of its 697 students showed up.

Debris would be cleared and areas hit by liquefaction would be turned into parks and sports venues and will include memorials. Countries including the UK, US, Australia, India and Japan have sent in millions of dollars worth of aid, but food and water remain in short supply, and the Red Cross said it had treated around 1,800 people in its clinics.

The powerful natural disaster and tsunami that struck Palu and surrounding areas on September 28 left at least 1,649 people dead.

"Based on reports from village chiefs in Balaroa and Petobo, some 5,000 people have not been found". They are all missing.

Hidayat was not on Sulawesi last on Friday when the 7.5 magnitude natural disaster struck, triggering a phenomenon called soil liquefaction, which turns the ground into a roiling quagmire.

Nugroho said other victims still are buried in the mud and debris and have not yet been recovered.

The government has said it will declare those communities flattened in Palu as mass graves and leave them untouched. "We don't want this".

The disaster agency said the official search for the unaccounted would continue until October 11 at which point they would be listed as missing, presumed dead. Surveys would be carried out and people living in vulnerable places would be moved. A plan to relocate communities is being drawn up, the agency said.

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When up to six-metre (20-foot) tsunami waves crashed into the Indonesian city of Palu last month, Didiek Wahyudi Kurniawan's house near the beach was quickly engulfed with water, leaving his wife and two daughters barely any time to escape. Figures for more remote areas, some only just re-connected to the outside world by road, are only trickling in.

"We always say for disaster infrastructure that you save $7 for every $1 investment you make, so this is needed and the cost is nothing compared to other infrastructure", he said.

"We don't agree with giving up". "If there are bodies in the spaces, we'll extract them. We're only collecting data to find out how many students are safe".

Officials said it was still unsafe to use heavy machinery in some areas where soil had loosened and collapsed after the quake in a process known as liquefaction.

"What's the point anyway?"

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.

The New Zealand Air Force has flown 120 residents out of the earthquake-ravaged Indonesian city of Palu. "My soul wouldn't rest", he said by a mass grave atop a hill overlooking Palu's bay as the sun set, where he had come to offer prayers.

A week after a major natural disaster brought devastation to Indonesia's Sulawesi island, Ichsan Hidayat told how the bodies of his sister and her 43-day-old daughter were found under a sea of mud and debris, the mother clutching her baby to her chest.