832 Die In Wake Of Indonesia Tsunami Amid Fears Final Number Could Top Thousands

At least 832 people have died after a 7.5-magnitude earthquake triggered a powerful tsunami which hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday evening, the country’s disaster agency has said.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the agency’s spokesman, said on Sunday that 821 of those killed were in the hard-hit city of Palu, home to 380,000 people.

The death toll “is believed to be still increasing since many bodies were still under the wreckage” he said.

Another 11 people were killed in the city of Donggala, which was closest to the quake’s epicentre.

A mass burial for the victims. arranged for health reasons, will be held in Palu on Sunday.

Access to Donggala and the nearby towns of Sigi and Parigi Moutong is limited and the situation there is yet to be fully assessed.

At least 1.2 million people live across the three areas.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo toured Palu on Sunday.

He said that rescuers were struggling to recover survivors because of a shortage of heavy equipment.

Authorities are deploying more heavy machinery.  The president hoped it would arrive in the region by Sunday night.

There are also shortages of fuel, electricity and food.

“There are many challenges. We have to do many things soon, but the condition does not allow us to do so,” Mr Widodo said.

The country’s disaster agency said that the area affected by the disaster is bigger than initially thought.

“We are trying our best. Time is so important here to save people,” said Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search and rescue team.

Rescuers scrambled to reach trapped victims in Palu, who were screaming from inside fallen buildings.

A team worked to free a 15-year-old girl, who remains trapped in her collapsed house next to the bodies of her dead mother and niece.

Nurul Istikharah was unable to move her legs, which were under heavy concrete rubble.

The team struggled to control water flowing into the rubble from a leaking pipe, amid fears that the teenager could drown.

She was unconscious at times but rescuers continued to talk to her and offered the 15-year-old food and water as they continued to try and free her.

People had called out on Sunday from the remains of the city’s eight-story Roa-Roa Hotel.

The cries had gone silent by the afternoon but a 25-year-old woman was pulled alive from the rubble on Sunday evening.

Indonesia‘s National Search and Rescue Agency released several images of the woman lying on an orange plastic stretcher, covered in a white blanket.

Mr Syaugi said there could be 50 people trapped inside the hotel.

An additional 100 to 200 people are thought to be buried inside a residential complex.

Palu’s streets were filled with wreckage from other damaged buildings.

More than half of the 560 inmates in a local prison fled after its walls fell during Friday’s quake, according to the warden, Adhi Yan Ricoh.

Looters also tried to enter an unstable shopping complex in the area, despite continuing strong aftershocks.

The city is built around a narrow bay that apparently magnified the force of the tsunami waters as they swept inland.

Some residents returned to their destroyed homes and tried to salvage a few waterlogged belongings.

The search efforts in other coastal areas have been hindered by damaged roads and a lack of power and telecommunications in the region, which were cut off in the disaster.

Aid and supplies are being flown to badly affected areas on military and commercial planes and helicopters.

Aerial footage of Donggala aired on Metro TV showed that some buildings in the area had been swept completely out to sea.

However much of the damage seemed limited to the town’s waterfront.

Indonesian TV broadcast dramatic footage, filmed on a smartphone, of the tsunami’s waves hitting Palu, causing people to scream and run in fear.

The water was at least 3m high when it arrived on land and is thought to have been 6m in some areas.

Nugroho said “tens to hundreds” of people were taking part in a beach festival when the tsunami struck. Their fate is unknown.

61 nationals of other countries were in Palu at the time of the disaster.

Most have been accounted for but three tourists from France and one from Malaysia are missing.

One visitor from South Korea is believed to be trapped in the Roa-Roa hotel.

The survivors will be evacuated to the Sulawesi city of Makassar, in the island’s south.

Some locals in Palu chose to sleep outside on Saturday night, due to the quake’s aftershocks.

Hospital buildings were damaged in the disaster and patients were also treated outdoors.

Hundreds of people have been injured and medical staff were left overwhelmed.

“There was no time to save ourselves,” said Dwi Haris, who suffered a broken back and shoulder in the disaster.

He is being treated at Palu’s Army hospital.

“I heard my wife cry for help, but then silence,” he said. “I don’t know what happened to her and my child. I hope they are safe.”

UN officials are in contact with Indonesian authorities and “stand ready to provide support as required”, according to a spokesperson. 

Pope Francis offered a prayer on Sunday for all those affected.

Indonesia is vulnerable to earthquakes because of its location on the Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines and volcanoes in the Pacific Basin.

A high-tech early warning system of sea floor sensors, that could be used in such situations, has failed to move beyond the prototype phase after a delay in funding.

In 2004, a huge earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean.

It killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Credit: The Independent/AP

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