At least 384 killed in Indonesian quake, tsunami

PALU, Indonesia, Sept 29 (Reuters) - At least 384 people were killed, many swept away as giant waves crashed onto beaches, when a major earthquake and tsunami hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, authorities said on Saturday.

Hundreds had gathered for a festival on the beach in the city of Palu on Friday when waves as high as six meters (18 feet) smashed onshore at dusk, sweeping many to their death and destroying anything in their path, following a 7.5 magnitude earthquake.

"When the (tsunami) threat arose yesterday, people were still doing their activities on the beach and did not immediately run and they became victims," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency BNPB said in a briefing in Jakarta.

"The tsunami didn't come by itself, it dragged cars, logs, houses, it hit everything on land," Nugroho said.

Some people climbed six meter trees to escape the tsunami and survived, he said.

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Earthquake, tsunami strike Indonesian island of Sulawesi
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Earthquake, tsunami strike Indonesian island of Sulawesi
A shopping center heavily damaged following an earthquake in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia September 28, 2018 in this handout photo made available by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/BNBP/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
A resident is seen beside the collapsed brick wall of her house at Tobadak village in Central Mamuju, western Sulawesi province, on September 28, 2018, after a strong earthquake hit the area. - Indonesia was rocked by a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake on September 28, just hours after at least one person was killed by a collapsing building in the same part of the country. (Photo by NURPADILA / AFP) (Photo credit should read NURPADILA/AFP/Getty Images)
A man takes a picture of a quake-tsunami aftermath in Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk past dead bodies (blue cover) a day after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
People look at the aftermath of the tsunami in Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk past dead bodies (blue cover) a day after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
People look at the aftermath of the tsunami in Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
People look at the aftermath of the tsunami in Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
A paramedic gives treatment to an earthquake survivor outside a hospital in Donggala, Indonesia Sulawesi Island, September 28, 2018. Antara Foto/HO/BNPB-Sutopo Purwo N via REUTERS - ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
People walk near a road damaged by yesterday's large earthquake at Kayangan Port in Lombok, Indonesia August 20, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Ahmad Subaidi/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A shopping center heavily damaged following an earthquake in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia September 28, 2018 in this handout photo made available by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/BNBP/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
A damaged house is seen after an earthquake hit in Palu, Indonesia Sulawesi Island, September 29, 2018. Antara Foto/BNPN via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
Residents trying to salvage belongings from their homes which collapsed after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said on September 29, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An injured woman rests at a makeshift hospital after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said on September 29, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents gather to look at a collapsed building after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said on September 29, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents make their way along a street full of debris after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / People look at the bodies of victims after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said on September 29, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Medical team members help patients outside a hospital after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents carry a victim after after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman cries as people look at the damages after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents salvage belongings after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said on September 29, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Medical team members help patients outside a hospital after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Amateur footage shown by local TV stations showed waves crashing into houses along Palu's shoreline, scattering shipping containers and flooding into a mosque in the city.

Around 16,700 people were evacuating to 24 centers in Palu.

 

DEATH TOLL SEEN RISING

Aftershocks rocked the coastal city until Saturday afternoon following the massive earthquake on Friday, which triggered the tsunami. The series of earthquakes were felt in an area with 2.4 million people.

Nugroho described the damage as "extensive" and said thousands of houses, hospitals, shopping malls and hotels had collapsed. A bridge washed away and the main highway to Palu was cut off due to a landslide.

Bodies of some victims were found trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, he said, adding 540 people were injured and 29 were missing. Dozens of injured people were being treated in makeshift medical tents set up outdoors, TV images showed.

Photos confirmed by authorities showed bodies being lined up along the street on Saturday, some in bags and some with their faces covered with clothes.

Nugroho said the casualties and the damage could be greater along the coastline 300 km (190 miles) north of Palu, an area called Donggala, which is closer to the epicenter of the quake.

Communications "were totally crippled with no information" from Donggala, Nugroho said. More than 600,000 people live in Donggala and Palu.

"We're now getting limited communications about the destruction in Palu city, but we have heard nothing from Donggala and this is extremely worrying. There are more than 300,000 people living there," the Red Cross said in a statement, adding that its staff and volunteers were heading to the affected areas.

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

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the death toll could rise to thousands.

 

PRESIDENT TO VISIT DISASTER AREA

Indonesia's meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG issued a tsunami warning after the quake but lifted it 34 minutes later.

The agency on Saturday was widely criticized for not informing that a tsunami had hit Palu, though officials said waves had come within the time the warning was issued.

The quake and tsunami caused a major power outage that cut communications around Palu making it difficult for authorities to coordinate rescue efforts.

The military has started sending in cargo planes with aid, authorities said, from Jakarta and other cities, but evacuees still badly need food and other basic necessities.

The city's airport has been reopened only for relief efforts and will remain closed until Oct. 4 for commercial flights, Nugroho said. The airport's runway and air traffic control tower were damaged in the quake, authorities said.

President Joko Widodo is scheduled to visit evacuation centers in Palu on Sunday.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes.

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.

Palu was hit by tsunami in 1927 and 1968, according to BNPB.

(Reporting by Reuters stringer in PALU, Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Gayatri Suroyo, Fransiska Nangoy and Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA Editing by Michael Perry)

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