That was the power of the earthquake, turning the ground into jelly in a deadly churn that eradicated landmarks and sent buildings flowing sideways even as they were being sucked down into rubble.
“I had to dig hard to know that this was my house,” said Mr. Munif, a 50-year-old businessman. “When I found it, I put a flag on it, as a sign.” He fears his brother was trapped inside.
Balaroa is a middle-class collection of housing developments in Palu, and it is the center of some of the worst damage from the quake that hit Indonesia on Friday. In the midst of a disaster that killed with both water and earth over a wider stretch of Sulawesi Island — the official toll rose to at least 1,407 dead on Wednesday — Balaroa sustained almost no damage from the ensuing tsunami.
Instead, the neighborhood was laid waste when the earthquake caused a phenomenon knowww.nytimes.cwn as liquefaction, undermining and destroying at least 1,747 homes in this part of town alone. Balaroa is now a vast wasteland of debris. Rooftops are all that remain of many houses. The minaret of a mosque, leaning precariously to one side, is one of the few structures still standing.
Across Palu and in neighboring areas, many people are still unaccounted for. Officials put the number of missing at 113, but that was only those who had been reported.
An untold number were swept away by the tsunami, especially by the third and final wave that was more than 20 feet high in some places. And many bodies are thought to still be buried under rubble in places like Balaroa. The quake struck at 6:02 p.m. local time, an hour when many would have been at home.