By Reuters and Agence France-Presse
JAKARTA — The death toll from an earthquake and tsunami on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi rose to 832 on Sunday, the national disaster mitigation agency 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 7.5-magnitude earthquake which struck on Friday and triggered tsunami waves as high as six meters (20 feet), agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference.
President Joko Widodo arrived Sunday in Indonesia’s quake and tsunami-devastated city of Palu, urging a non-stop recovery effort.
“I’m asking my brothers to all be ready to work day and night and to finish everything related to the evacuation,” Widodo – decked out in military fatigues – told troops deployed to Sulawesi island.
“Ready?” he asked. “Ready!” they shouted in response.
Rescue teams in Indonesia struggled on Sunday to reach communities feared devastated by a major earthquake and tsunami on Sulawesi island.
A young woman was pulled alive from the rubble of the Roa Roa Hotel, the news website Detik.com reported. Hotel owner Ko Jefry told Metro TV on Saturday that up to 60 people were believed trapped. Hundreds of people gathered at the mall searching for loved ones.
“We’ve got information from people that their relatives are still inside, so we’re focusing on that, especially to find survivors,” a rescuer identified as Yusuf, working at the ruins of the mall, told Metro TV.
With confirmed deaths only from Palu, 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 epicenter of the quake.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the toll could rise into the thousands.
A disaster official said the tsunami traveled across the sea at speeds of 800 kph (500 mph) before striking the shore and casualties could have been caused along a 300 km (200 miles) stretch of coast, north and south of Palu.
Donggala town has been extensively damaged, with houses swept into the sea and bodies trapped in debris, according to a Metro TV reporter on the scene.
The Red Cross said it had heard nothing from the Donggala region.
“This is extremely worrying,” it said in a statement.
“This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse.”
National search and rescue agency chief Muhammad Syaugi told Reuters rescuers were flying to Donggala by helicopter.
PH offers prayers, help
The Philippine government has offered prayers and pledged assistance to Indonesia following a devastating earthquake and tsunami over the weekend.
“We join the people of Indonesia in offering our prayers to the hundreds who died after a powerful 7.4 earthquake and tsunami hit Central Sulawesi last Friday,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.
“The Philippines is ready to respond and extend assistance to Indonesia,” he added.
The Philippine Embassy in Jakarta said the only Filipino in the Indonesian city struck by a 10-feet tall wall of tsunami last Friday is safe.
Ambassador to Jakarta Leehiong Wee said the Filipino, a detainee serving his sentence at the Lapas Penitentiary, is safe.
This came as the Philippines conveyed its deep condolences to Indonesia over the deaths of nearly 400 people after a magnitude 7.4 earthquake followed by a tsunami struck Central Sulawesi on Friday.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines is ready to respond and extend assistance to Indonesia.