THE confirmed death toll from the devastating earthquake and tsunami on Sulawesi island is approaching 2000, but thousands more people remain unaccounted for.

Officials have said search teams plan to stop looking for victims later this week.

The death toll stands at 1944, mostly in the hardest-hit city of Palu.

Willem Rampangilei, head of the National Board for Disaster Management, said there could be as many as 5000 victims still buried in deep mud in Balaroa and Petobo, two of Palu’s hardest-hit neighbourhoods.

But Rampangilei said life is returning to normal in some areas affected by the disaster.

Food and water needs have been met, and local government has started to function again.

Many schools were destroyed, but he said classes will resume where possible. However, some pupils are still too scared to return.