Tsunami kills hundreds in Indonesia's Sulawesi after quake

Geneva Stokes
September 30, 2018

In August, a series of major quakes killed over 500 people in the tourist island of Lombok and destroyed dozens of villages along its northern coast.

The tsunami, up to 2 meters high, swept away houses in Palu, the capital of central Sulawesi province.

The head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency Muhammad Syaugi told local online media Detik.com that he could hear people calling out from the collapsed eight-story Roa-Roa Hotel in Palu.

Bodies have been lying in city streets and the injured are being treated in tents because of damage to hospitals.

The scale of casualties and damage beyond the city is still unclear.

Anxious survivors in Palu bedded down in the open air on Saturday night, heeding advice by officials not to return to their homes as a precaution.

A World Vision New Zealand spokesperson, Tilly Redstone, said all its people in Indonesia had been accounted for and were okay.

"Our deepest condolences. May Almighty God bless our family (Agung) and other victims of the quake in Donggala regency", he said. It was reported as being 3 metres high in some areas and double that height elsewhere.

The quakes come a month after a trio of earthquakes hit several islands in the South Pacific and Indonesia, including Lombok, which is still recovering from the effects of an August 5 natural disaster that killed more than 430 people.

Why were so many killed on Friday?

The quake hit just off central Sulawesi at a depth of 10km in the early evening, the US Geological Survey said.

"The 1.5-to two-metre tsunami has receded", Indonesia's meteorology agency, BMKG, said.

Indonesia's meteorological agency has been criticised for its response but officials said the waves struck while the warning was in place.

There were also concerns over the whereabouts of hundreds of people preparing for a beach festival that had been due to start Friday, the disaster agency said.

Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference Sunday that the death toll had more than doubled to 832, with almost all of those killed in Palu. "It hit everything on land".

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

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The Red Cross is concerned for residents living in an area called Donggala, which is closer to the epicenter of the quake.

"We have heard nothing from Donggala and this is extremely worrying", Gelfand said.

"This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse", it said.

What is being done for the survivors?

A department store building is seen heavily damaged by quake in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

About 19,000 people were left dead or missing as the terrifying wall of water that travelled at the speed of a jet plane swallowed up everything in its path.

The UK-based charity Save the Children is sending an assessment team to the disaster zone.

"We're particularly concerned about the impact of the quake on children, who are more vulnerable to being swept away in tsunamis", said Tom Howells, of Save the Children.

What happened at the airport?

Anthonius Gunawan Agung, 21, died in the hospital after he jumped off the traffic control tower at the Palu airport when he thought the tower was collapsing.

His actions undoubtedly saved the lives of dozens.

Colleagues paid tribute on Twitter, sharing photos of Mr Agung and soldiers carrying his covered body past a guard of honour.

An Associated Press photographer saw items being carried off from inside the collapsed mall Sunday.

When the quake hit, "we all panicked and ran out of the house", Anser Bachmid, 39, told AFP news agency.

"Don't even think to find the inmates". We also need people to help the victims.

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