Nearly 400 people have been killed after a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit Indonesia’s central Sulawesi island.
The national disaster agency put the current death toll at 384, all of them reported in the tsunami-struck city of Palu, but warned the number was likely to rise as rescue efforts continued on Saturday.
In Palu – home to around 350,000 people – partially covered bodies lay on the ground near the shore, the day after tsunami waves triggered by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake came ashore.
Tomi Soetjipto, a journalist based in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, said officials feared a “far worse” situation in the neighbouring city Donggala, home to nearly 300,000 people.
“We haven’t heard any news in terms of casualties from there, and officials are foreseeing and fearing the worst.
Meanwhile, hospitals in the city were overwhelmed by the influx of injured, with many people being treated in the open air, while other survivors helped to retrieve the remains of those who died.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster agency, said many people “were still doing their activities on the beach and did not immediately run” when the tsunami threat rose in Palu on Friday.
“The tsunami didn’t come by itself, it dragged cars, logs, houses, it hit everything on land,” said Nugroho.
Some people climbed six-metre trees to escape the tsunami and survived, he said before adding the tsunami struck at a speed of 800 kph, destroying buildings and infrastructure.
The damage in the area was “extensive”, he said, with thousands of houses, hospitals, shopping malls and hotels collapsed, a bridge washed away and the main highway to Palu cut off due to a landslide.
Strong aftershocks continued to rock the coastal city on Saturday morning, he said.
The disaster agency, BNPB, also said there were concerns about the whereabouts of hundreds of people preparing for a beach festival due to start Friday evening in Palu.