PALU, Indonesia, – Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said Saturday, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region.
At least 384 people have been killed after an earthquake & tsunami struck #Indonesia. Waves of up to 2 metres high swept through the city on Sulawesi island after the magnitude 7.5 quake brought down buildings & sent people fleeing from their homespic.twitter.com/MX6TSaGcq7
— . (@Qataari_Writer) September 29, 2018
The national disaster agency put the official death toll so far at 384, all of them in the tsunami-struck city of Palu, but warned the toll was likely to rise. Some 540 people have been badly injured, it added.
In the city — home to around 350,000 people — partially covered bodies lay on the ground near the shore, the day after tsunami waves 1.5 meters (five feet) high hit the coast.
There were also concerns over the whereabouts of hundreds of people preparing for a beach festival that had been due to start Friday evening, the disaster agency said.
Hospitals were overwhelmed by the influx of those injured, with many people being treated in the open air, while other survivors helped to retrieve the remains of those who died. One man was seen carrying the muddy corpse of a small child.
As night fell, terrified residents headed outside to sleep in makeshift shelters, fearing powerful aftershocks would topple damaged homes.
The tsunami was triggered by a strong quake that brought down buildings and sent locals fleeing for higher ground as a churning wall of water crashed into Palu, where there were widespread power blackouts. “We all panicked and ran out of the house” when the quake hit, said Anser Bachmid, a 39-year-old Palu resident. “People here need aid — food, drink, clean water. We don’t know what to eat for dinner tonight.”
Dramatic video footage captured from the top floor of a parking ramp in Palu, nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the quake’s epicenter, showed waves bring down several buildings and inundate a large mosque.
“I just ran when I saw the waves hitting homes on the coastline,” said Palu resident Rusidanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
About 17,000 people had been evacuated, the disaster agency said, and that figure is expected to rise.
The shallow 7.5 magnitude tremor was more powerful than a series of quakes that killed hundreds on the Indonesian island of Lombok in July and August.
Indonesian president Joko Widodo said the military was being called into the disaster-struck region to help search-and-rescue teams get to victims and find bodies.
“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.”
The massive tremors were felt hundreds of kilometers away and there has been the little word about casualties in Donggala, a region north of Palu where at least one person was reported dead in Friday’s quakes.
“We have heard nothing from Donggala and this is extremely worrying,” Gelfand said. “There are more than 300,000 people living there. This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse.”
The quake hit just off central Sulawesi at a depth of 10 kilometers (six miles) just before 1100 GMT — an early evening in Indonesia — the US Geological Survey said. Such shallow quakes tend to be more destructive.