A 7.4-magnitude quake, followed by several deadly aftershocks, a tsunami and soil liquefaction, in Central Sulawesi has left at least 832 people dead, with 540 others injured as of Sunday, according to National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) data.
Indonesian Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho put the death toll at 405 early Sunday, based on the number of bodies that had been recovered.
"The death toll is believed to be still increasing since many bodies were still under the wreckage while many have not able to be reached".
The Red Cross is sending volunteers and staff to affected areas, but aid agencies and Indonesian authorities struggled to reach certain areas due to landslides, destroyed roads, and limited communication.
Now-viral video footage shows the tsunami slamming into the shore, inundating streets and destroying buildings. Aerial video also showed the battered coastline surrounding Palu.
Officers from national search and rescue agency Basarnas were seen chipping carefully through rubble at what remains of the Roa Roa Hotel in downtown Palu, while another team at the nearby Tatura Mall were trying to establish a safe access point into the building. They did not appear to be concerned about their safety, despite ongoing aftershocks and the structure's questionable stability.
Nugroho said "tens to hundreds" of people were taking part in a beach festival in Palu when the tsunami struck at dusk on Friday.
Most of the confirmed deaths were in Palu itself, and authorities are bracing for the toll to climb as connections with outlying areas are restored.
"He gave clearance for this flight, and if he left his post before the plane was airborne, hundreds of people inside the plane might be in danger", he said.
Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo visited the area on Sunday.
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"We need all the help we can get", said Komang Adi Sujendra, director of the state-run Undata hospital in Palu.
One witness recounted to the AP how violently his hotel shook during the quake and that he didn't know what happened to his wife and daughter.
"There was no time to save ourselves".
"To secure the scene and make sure that issues do not deteriorate further, I think, will be a big challenge", he said. "I heard my wife cry for help, but then silence". "I hope people will be patient".
Antara Foto Agency / Reuters Damage from an natural disaster and tsunami can be seen in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia Saturday in this photo taken by Antara Foto. More recently, a powerful quake on the island of Lombok killed 505 people in August.
People transfer a body at a hospital in Palu in Central Sulawesi province, Indonesia, Sept. 30, 2018. Seawater still pooled inland and a mosque heavily damaged by the quake was half submerged. A large bridge with yellow arches had collapsed.
The city is built around a narrow bay that apparently magnified the force of the tsunami waters as they raced into the tight inlet. The water smashed into buildings and the damaged mosque.
Nina, a 23-year-old woman who goes by one name, was working at a laundry service shop not far from the beach when the quake hit.
"Humanitarian groups are struggling to get people into affected areas", she said.
Scores of residents shouted "we're hungry, we need food" as soldiers distributed rations from a truck in one neighborhood, while elsewhere television showed pictures of people making off with clothes and other items from a wrecked mall. "We don't even have time yet to report this incident to our superiors". Now I don't know where my mother and brother are.