A tsunami that hit two central Indonesian cities swept away buildings and at least several hundred people, dumping victims caught in its relentless path across a devastated landscape that rescuers were struggling to reach Saturday, hindered by damaged roads and broken communications.
Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 384 people were killed in the hard-hit city of Palu alone.
The nearby city of Donggala and the town of Mamuju were also severely affected by the three-metre-high tsunami but have not yet been reached by aid due to damaged roads and disrupted telecommunications.
The ruin of a mosque badly damaged by earthquake and tsunami is seen in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia on Saturday. (Rifki/Associated Press)
Nugroho said "tens to hundreds" of people, including several performers, were taking part in a beach festival in Palu when the tsunami, which was triggered by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake, struck at dusk on Friday. Their fate was unknown.
Palu, which has more than 380,000 people, was strewn with debris from collapsed buildings. A mosque heavily damaged by the quake was half submerged and a shopping mall was reduced to a crumpled hulk. A large bridge with yellow arches had collapsed. Bodies lay partially covered by tarpaulins and a man carried a dead child through the wreckage.
People make their way along a street full of debris in Palu. (Muhammad Rifki/AFP/Getty Images)
The city is built around a narrow bay that apparently magnified the force of the tsunami waters as they raced into the tight inlet.
Indonesian TV showed a smartphone video of a powerful wave hitting Palu, with people screaming and running in fear. The water smashed into buildings and the damaged mosque.
A man surveys the damage caused by an earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. The powerful earthquake rocked the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday, triggering a three-metre-tall tsunami that an official said swept away houses in at least two cities. (Rifki/Associated Press)
Communications with the area were difficult because power and telecommunications were cut, hampering search and rescue efforts.
Nugroho has said that essential aircraft can land at Palu airport's, though AirNav, which oversees aircraft navigation, said the runway was cracked and the control tower damaged.
Request for satellite images
"We hope there will be international satellites crossing over Indonesia that can capture images and provide them to us so we can use the images to prepare humanitarian aid," Nugroho said.
A man stands amid the damage caused by a tsunami in Palu. (Associated Press)
AirNav said one of its air traffic controllers, aged 21, died in the quake after staying in the tower to ensure a flight he'd just cleared for departure got airborne safely. It did.
Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said Friday night that he instructed the security minister to co-ordinate the government's response to the disaster.
Jokowi also told reporters in his hometown of Solo that he called on the country's military chief to help with search and rescue efforts.
A car swept away by tsunami is seen stuck under a damaged building in Palu. (Dede Budiyarto via AP)
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said UN officials were in contact with Indonesian authorities and "stand ready to provide support as required."
Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.
On Aug. 5, a powerful quake on the island of Lombok killed 505 people, most of whom died in collapsing buildings. Another series of strong quakes in mid-August killed at least a dozen on Lombok and neighbouring Sumbawa island.
In December 2004, a massive magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra island in western Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.
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