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Tsunami death toll tops 800 amid search for survivors

30 September 2018, 11:54:00

The death toll from an earthquake that prompted a tsunami on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has risen to 832, the national disaster mitigation agency has said, adding it assessed the affected area to be bigger than initially thought.

Many people were reported trapped in the rubble of buildings brought down in the magnitude 7.5 earthquake which struck on Friday and triggered tsunami waves as high as six metres (20 feet), agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference.

Amid the levelled trees, overturned cars, concertinaed homes and flotsam tossed up to 50 metres inland, survivors and rescuers struggled to come to grips with the scale of the disaster.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrived on the island of Sulawesi on Sunday to take stock of the situation.

Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of a hotel and a mall in the city of Palu. A young woman was pulled alive from the rubble of the Roa Roa Hotel, the news website Detik.com reported. The owner of the hotel said that up to 60 people were believed trapped in the rubble.

"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 news agency. "We even heard people calling for help there yesterday."

"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."

Authorities are bracing for much worse as reports filter in from outlying areas, in particular, Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and closer to the epicentre of the quake.

Speaking from Jakarta, journalist Tomi Soet-jipto told Al Jazeera 11 of the recorded deaths were from Donggala, but a clear picture on the situation there has yet to emerge. 

"The national disaster agency spokesperson insisted that up until now they still received no official information in terms of casualties and damage," he said. 

The nearby city of Mamuju was also ravaged, but little information was available due to damaged roads and disrupted telecommunications.

"Two helicopters from Indonesian Red Cross have been dispatched to Donggala to bring in emergency supplies. We don't know if emergency workers have been able to reach the city by road. There is no official assessment of the damage caused by earthquake and Tsunami," Tomi Soetjipto, a journalist based in Jakarta, said.

More than half of the 560 inmates in Palu's prison escaped after its walls collapsed during the quake, according to state news agency Antara, while more than 100 inmates escaped from a prison in Donggala.

The military has started sending in aircraft with aid from Jakarta and other cities, authorities said.


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