Death toll in Indonesia tsunami soars to 832
(NST 30 SEP - PALU) The death toll from a powerful earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia leapt to 832 Sunday, as stunned people on the stricken island of Sulawesi struggled to find food and water and looting spread.
The new toll announced by the national disaster agency was almost double the previous figure. Indonesian vice-president Jusuf Kalla said the final number of dead could be in the "thousands."
"It feels very tense," said 35-year-old mother Risa Kusuma, comforting her feverish baby boy at an evacuation centre in the gutted coastal city of Palu. "Every minute an ambulance brings in bodies. Clean water is scarce. The minimarkets are looted everywhere."
Indonesia's Metro TV on Sunday broadcast footage from a coastal community in Donggala, close to the epicentre of the quake, where some waterfront homes appeared crushed but a resident said most people fled to higher ground after the quake struck.
"When it shook really hard, we all ran up into the hills," a man identified as Iswan told Metro TV.
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.
"We managed to pull out a woman alive from the Hotel Roa-Roa last night," Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search and rescue agency, told AFP. "We even heard people calling for help there yesterday."
Indonesian president Joko Widodo was expected to travel to the region to see the devastation for himself on Sunday.
On Saturday evening, residents fashioned makeshift bamboo shelters or slept out on dusty playing fields, fearing powerful aftershocks would topple damaged homes and bring yet more carnage.
C-130 military transport aircraft with relief supplies managed to land at the main airport in Palu, which re-opened to humanitarian flights and limited commercial flights, but only to pilots able to land by sight alone.
About 17,000 people had been evacuated, the government disaster agency said and that number was expected to soar.
"This was a terrifying double disaster," said Jan Gelfand, a Jakarta-based official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
"The Indonesian Red Cross is racing to help survivors but we don't know what they'll find there."
Images showed a double-arched yellow bridge had collapsed with its two metal arches twisted as cars bobbed in the water below.
A key access road had been badly damaged and was partially blocked by landslides, the disaster agency said.
Friday's tremor was also felt in the far south of the island in its largest city Makassar and on neighbouring Kalimantan, Indonesia's portion of Borneo island.
As many as 2.4 million people could have felt the quake, the disaster agency said.
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.