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Residents pick their way through debris filling a street on Saturday after a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit Palu, on Indonesia's Sulawesi island, on Friday evening. | AFP-JIJI

Asia Pacific

Death toll jumps to at least 384 after tsunami, quake hits Sulawesi Island in Indonesia

Reuters, AFP-JIJI

  • Sep 29, 2018



JAKARTA – The death toll from a Friday evening earthquake and tsunami on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi jumped to 384 on Saturday, authorities said, with many of those killed swept away by giant waves as they played on the beach in the city of Palu.

Strong aftershocks continued to rock the city on Saturday morning after waves up to 6 meters (18 feet) high swept through the scenic tourist town Friday, triggered by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on land.

“When the (tsunami) threat arose yesterday, people were still doing their activities on the beach and did not immediately run and they became victims,” said the spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency BNPB, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, in Jakarta. Hundreds of people were preparing for a beach festival to celebrate Palu’s anniversary. The festival was due to start Friday night.

Some people climbed trees to escape the tsunami and survived, Nugroho said.

Photos confirmed by authorities showed bodies being lined up along a street Saturday, some in bags and some with their faces covered with clothes.

Amateur footage shown by local TV stations showed waves crashing into houses along Palu’s shoreline, scattering shipping containers and flooding into a mosque.

Nugroho described the damage as “extensive,” with thousands of houses, hospitals, shopping malls and hotels collapsed, a bridge washed away and the main highway to Palu cut due to a landslide.

Bodies of some victims were found trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, he said, adding that 540 people were injured. Dozens of injured people were being treated in makeshift medical tents set up outdoors, TV images showed.

Indonesia’s meteorological and geophysics agency, BMKG, issued a tsunami warning after the quake but lifted it 34 minutes later. The agency has been widely criticized for not informing a tsunami had hit Palu on Saturday, though officials said waves had come within the time the warning was issued.

The quake and tsunami caused a major power outage that cut communications around Palu. On Saturday, authorities were still having difficulties coordinating rescue efforts.

The disaster agency has not been able to get any information from the fishing town of Donggala, 27 km (16 miles) away from the epicenter of the quake. More than 600,000 people live in Donggala and Palu.

Chief Security Minister Wiranto told TVOne the military has started sending in cargo planes from the capital, Jakarta, carrying relief aid.

The city’s airport remained closed after its runway and air traffic control tower was damaged in the quake, but officials said they are preparing to reopen to allow aid to come in.

Nugroho said no command center for disaster recovery has been created yet.

The Palu area was hit by a less powerful quake earlier Friday, which destroyed some houses, killed one person and injured at least 10 in Donggala, authorities said.

The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the second quake at a strong 7.5, after first saying it was 7.7.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes.