Indonesia searches for survivors after quake, tsunami as death toll passes 400
PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – More than 400 people were confirmed killed, many swept away as tsunami waves triggered by a massive earthquake crashed into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, and authorities expected the toll to rise sharply on Sunday as news arrives from remote areas.
Dozens of people were reported to be still trapped in the rubble of a hotel and a mall in the city of Palu, which was hit by waves as high as six meters (20 feet) following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake.
With the death toll so far from Palu alone and reports only slowly filtering in from Donggal, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and closer to the epicenter, authorities are bracing for worse to come.
Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the toll could rise to thousands.
Hundreds of people had gathered for a festival on the Palu’s beach when the wall of water smashed onshore at dusk on Friday, sweeping many to their deaths and destroying anything in its path. Indonesian President Joko Widodo was scheduled to visit evacuation centers in the city on Sunday.
The Head of the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), Willem Rampangilei, told reporters in Sulawesi late on Saturday the death toll from Palu had reached 420 people, according to news website Kompas.
“It’s estimated that 10,000 refugees are scattered in 50 points in Palu city,” he was quoted by Kompas as saying. “We are having difficulty deploying heavy equipment to find victims under the rubble of buildings because many of the roads leading to Palu city are damaged.”
Amateur footage shown by local TV stations showed waves crashing into houses along Palu’s shoreline, scattering shipping containers and flooding into a mosque in the city.
Dozens of injured people were being treated in makeshift medical tents set up outdoors.
Photos confirmed by authorities showed bodies being lined up along the street on Saturday, some in bags and some with their faces covered with clothes.
BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a briefing in Jakarta the damage was “extensive” and said thousands of houses, hospitals, shopping malls and hotels had collapsed. A bridge was washed away and the main highway to Palu was cut off due to a landslide.
“The tsunami didn’t come by itself, it dragged cars, logs, houses, it hit everything on land,” Nugroho said, adding the tsunami had traveled across the open sea at speeds of 800 kph (500 mph) before striking the shoreline.
Metro TV reported hundreds of people had gathered outside a collapsed mall on Sunday, looking for relatives feared trapped under rubble.
Nugroho said casualties and damage could be greater along the coastline for 300 km (200 miles) north and south of Palu, including the region of Donggala.