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Indonesia quake, tsunami: Death toll climbs to 844, mass burials begin

About 1,700 houses in one Palu neighborhood were swallowed up


Indonesia Earthquake
Search and rescue workers help rescue a person trapped in rubble following an earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia September 30, 2018

The extent of the devastation caused by an earthquake and tsunami on the Indonesian island of should become clearer on Tuesday, as rescuers push into remote areas that have been out of contact for more than three days.

Officials fear the death toll will rise into the thousands. has said it would accept offers of aid, having shunned outside help earlier this year when an earthquake struck the island of Lombok.

By Monday, the number of confirmed deaths stood at 844, most of them in Palu, the main city in the disaster zone.

With communications down and access by land disrupted, rescuers were struggling to reach communities closer to the epicenter of the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that struck on Friday, triggering tsunami waves as high as six meters (20 feet).

A particular horror in several areas was liquefaction, which happens when soil shaken by an earthquake behaves like a liquid.

About 1,700 houses in one neighborhood were swallowed up, with hundreds of people believed buried, the national disaster agency said.

Indonesia earthquake

Residents stand in front of a damaged shopping mall after an earthquake hit | Photo: Reuters

There was also mounting concern over Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of and close to the epicenter, and two other districts - with a combined population of about 1.4 million.

Initial reports from Red Cross rescuers who had reached the outskirts of Donggala district were chilling.

“The situation in the affected areas is nightmarish,” Jan Gelfand, head of an the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) office in Jakarta said in a statement.

“The city of Palu has been devastated and first reports out of Donggala indicate that it has also been hit extremely hard by the double disaster,” Gelfand said.

So far, nearly 60,000 people have been displaced and are in need of emergency help, while thousands have been streaming out of the stricken areas.

Chief security minister Wiranto said on Monday the government was trying to meet survivors’ immediate needs and would accept offers of help.

“Right now, we need emergency aid,” Wiranto said, referring to the foreign aid that would be airlifted to Palu, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta.

Indonesia Earthquake

People take fuel from a tanker truck in earthquake and tsunami hit Palu, Central Sulawesi, September 30, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.

Commercial airlines have struggled to restore operations at Palu’s quake-damaged airport, but military aircraft took survivors out on Monday.

About 3,000 people thronged the airport hoping to get on any flight and officers struggled to keep order.

Wiranto said a navy vessel capable of taking 1,000 people at a time would also be deployed to help with the evacuation.

He said the power utility was also working to restore electricity: “Without energy, everything is crippled.”

Anger and desperation among traumatized residents of Palu appeared to be simmering, with some outbreaks of looting.

“Stop hiding Mr Mayor,” was daubed on a wall in one part of Palu. Mayor Hidayat was unavailable for comment.

Numerous aftershocks have strained survivors already jangled nerves.

“I feel like the ground is still shifting. I can’t sleep,” said resident Siti Sarifah, 26.

First Published: Tue, October 02 2018. 07:36 IST