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Bodies of Bible-class students retrieved from rubble

More students attending retreat on earthquake-hit Indonesian island remain unaccounted for

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Bodies of Bible-class students retrieved from rubble

Members of an Indonesian rescue team remove the body of a quake victim retrieved from a collapsed building in Palu in Central Sulawesi on Oct. 2 after an earthquake and tsunami hit the area on Sept. 28. The bodies of 34 Bible class students have been retrieved from a village church destroyed by the disaster. More than 50 other students remain unaccounted for. (Photo by Yusuf Wahil/AFP)

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The bodies of 34 Christian students who were trapped while attending a Bible class on the disaster-struck Indonesian island of Sulawesi have been discovered under church debris.

A further 52 Catholic and Protestant students who were attending the class in Jono Oge village,  Sigi district, Central Sulawesi, were still missing, church officials said.

Albert Podung, a church worker who lives in Palu, the coastal city devastated by the 7.5-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on Sept. 28, said 86 high school students were attending a retreat at a church training centre.

"They are Catholic and Protestant students who were on a retreat in the location when the earthquake occurred causing the church to collapse," he told ucanews.com.

He said three churches in Sigi were damaged, including one that sank into the mud because of land slides and earth movement following the earthquake. He added that many Catholic and Protestant churches in Palu were also damaged.

Aulia Arriani, an Indonesian Red Cross official, said the Red Cross volunteer team could only trace 34 bodies, while "the rest are not known."

Arriani said rescue team were having difficulty reaching the location as roads were damaged and terrain had turned to mud.

"The area is still isolated," she said. "The land is covered with mud and volunteers must walk nearly one and half hours to carry the corpses to ambulances." 

The devastation caused by the earthquake has paralyzed transportation and communication services, and many parts of the region do not have electricity.

Meanwhile, Anthonius Gunawan Agung, a 22-year-old Catholic air-controller at Palu's Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie airport, has been posthumously hailed as a hero for ensuring flight safety as the earthquake hit.

After making sure that Batik Air flight 6231 had taken off safely, Agung jumped out of the four-storey control tower and suffered serious internal injuries, Channel NewsAsia reported. He later died from his injuries in hospital.

"Thank you for keeping me and guarding me till I'm safely airborne," the pilot wrote on Instagram, describing Agung as "my guardian angel."

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said Oct. 3 that the powerful earthquake and tsunami had killed 1,407 people and injured 2,500 others. Over 120 people were still missing.

More than 65,000 homes were damaged and 70,00 people forced to flee their homes.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has appealed to international agencies to help with rehabilitation and reconstruction in the region. At least 18 countries have promised assistance including Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, the United States and South Korea.

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