Indonesians Attend Mass After Earthquake Kills More Than 1,700

Oct 7, 2018
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Indonesia, where the death toll from an earthquake and tsunami nine days ago has risen to more than 1,700. Today, Christians there held Sunday services to pray for the dead and for the estimated 5,000 people who may still be missing. Christians make up about 10 percent of the people in Palu, the city closest to the epicenter. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports that people there are still worried about aftershocks and the stability of structures that remain standing.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: We're standing in front of this huge marble church. It's a modern style. It's a Catholic church. And the marble facade has fallen off the front. And parishioners are so frightened to go inside that they've actually recreated the church in the yard here with plastic chairs, and they're about to hold a Mass here.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in foreign language).

FRAYER: The red plastic chairs are lined up like church pews. There's an altar and candles next to the parking lot.

ANASTASIA PRADU LANGKAMAU: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: Afraid, anxious, worried - that's the mood in Palu, says Anastasia Prada Langkamau (ph), the bookkeeper at St. Mary's Church. This building survived the quake, but it was the aftershocks, which are still shaking the ground here daily, that felled the church's facade and beams inside. I asked the pastor, Father Jimmy Torre, what he needs most.

JIMMY TORRE: Food, waters. Many, many peoples is very hungry.

FRAYER: Hungry because the local airport, crippled by damage, was slow to receive aid. Convoys have been driving 24 hours from the south of the island. Some street vendors are returning, but many grocery stores are still closed or have been looted. Father Jimmy has turned his church veranda into a soup kitchen.

TORRE: You see for the papers?

FRAYER: Vegetables.

TORRE: Rice.

FRAYER: Rice - lots of rice.

The electricity has just come back on, but the front lawn of the church is crowded with tents. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced. Rita and Jimmy Wagiu (ph) huddle under a tarp comforting their infant son. Their home was wrecked in the earthquake. They've been camping here for a week, and they're in mourning. Jimmy lost his sister in the tsunami. She was swept away. His 15-year-old daughter, Tania (ph), scrolls through cellphone photos of her aunt in happier times.

TANIA WAGIU: I feel sad because my aunt is passed away.

FRAYER: The parents, Rita and Jimmy, try to hold it together for their kids. Tomorrow, they hope to reopen the family photocopy business. Indonesian officials say they may call off all recovery operations by the end of the week and declare three Palu neighborhoods memorials. Scores of dead remain uncounted. In his tent, Jimmy Wagiu cradles his 14-month-old son.

JIMMY WAGIU: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "Some day, I'll tell my son about all of this," he says - "about everything we have survived here."

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Palu, Indonesia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.