Jakarta: The death toll from the Indonesia’s quake and tsunami disaster has soared to 832 and could rise further, the country’s disaster management agency said even as rescue workers combed through concrete and lumber searching for survivors.
The toll was confirmed by agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho who has estimated that 2.4 million people were impacted by Friday’s 7.5-magnitude earthquake, CNN reported.
Survivors walked through floodwater and piles of debris on Sunday.
A shopping mall turned into rubble and the large dome of a mosque collapsed in the coastal city of Palu, home of 350,000 people.
Hundreds were badly injured and at least 17,000 people were left homeless, Nugroho said.
The lack of heavy equipment and personnel has slowed down rescue efforts in Palu, where workers were scrambling to rescue about 50 people trapped beneath the debris of a collapsed hotel.
“What we now desperately need is heavy machinery to clear the rubble. I have my staff on the ground, but it’s impossible just to rely on their strength alone to clear this,” said Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search and rescue agency.
“It feels very tense. Every minute an ambulance brings in bodies. Clean water is scarce. The minimarkets are looted everywhere,” AFP quoted 35-year-old mother Risa Kusuma, comforting her feverish baby boy at an evacuation centre in the gutted coastal city of Palu, as saying.
In Palu city on Sunday aid was trickling in, the Indonesian military had been deployed and search-and-rescue workers were doggedly combing the rubble for survivors — looking for as many as 150 people at one upscale hotel alone.
As Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo heads to visit Palu on Sunday, the scale of the earthquake’s destruction is still unclear.
Electricity and communications have been cut off and roads that are severely damaged or blocked by landslides are making it difficult to assess the damage, Nugroho said.
Jan Gelfand, head of the International Red Cross in Indonesia, has said that help was also on the way for the fishing towns of Donggala and Mamuju, two areas feared to be heavily devastated.
“The Indonesian Red Cross is racing to help survivors but we don’t know what they’ll find there,” Gelfand told CNN, adding “This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse”.
The horrific scene began on Friday afternoon when a series of tremors rocked Sulawesi and a 7.5 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that sent waves of “about 10 feet high” to the beaches of Palu and Donggala.
An early tsunami warning had been issued by the Indonesian meteorological agency, but was later lifted after the agency ascertained that the water had receded.
The initial quake struck as evening prayers were about to begin in the world’s biggest Muslim majority country on the holiest day of the week, when mosques are especially busy.
Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone nations on earth.
It lies on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide and many of the world’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.
Earlier this year, a series of powerful quakes hit Lombok, killing more than 550 people on the holiday island and neighbouring Sumbawa.
Indonesia has been hit by a string of other deadly quakes including a devastating 9.1-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Sumatra in December 2004.
That Boxing Day quake triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 throughout the region, including 168,000 in Indonesia.