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Death Toll Mounts After Indonesian Quake, Tsunami

Ahmad Syamsudin
Jakarta
2018-09-29
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Residents make their way along a street full of debris after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island, Sept. 29, 2018.
Residents make their way along a street full of debris after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island, Sept. 29, 2018.
AFP

At least 384 people have been killed as the full extent of the destruction became clearer a day after two earthquakes and a subsequent tsunami hit Indonesia's Sulawesi island, officials said on Saturday.

About 540 others were hospitalized with serious injuries and 29 were listed as missing in Palu, the main city in Central Sulawesi province, National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

“We expect the number of casualties to increase because those figures were only from Palu,” Sutopo said.

There had been no information on casualties from the neighbouring regency of Donggala, which was also hit by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, he said.

Friday’s 7.4-magnitude earthquake, which followed a 5.9-magnitude temblor three hours earlier, triggered a tsunami warning, but it was lifted about half an hour later.

But mobile phone footage soon emerged showing waves as high as three meters (ten feet) slamming into houses and buildings in Palu’s coastal area.

People were heard screaming in fear as the waters swept away homes and vehicles.

The head of Indonesia’s Meteorological, Geophysical and Climatological Agency, Dwikorita Karnawati, said late Friday that the warning was lifted after the tsunami had hit and that waters onshore had receded.

Sutopo said the death toll included those killed by collapsed buildings and the tsunami.

Residents try to salvage belongings from homes which collapsed after two earthquakes and a tsunami hit Palu, Sulawesi, Sept. 29, 2018. [AFP]
Residents try to salvage belongings from homes which collapsed after earthquakes and a tsunami hit Palu, Sulawesi on Sept. 29, 2018. [AFP]

 

Power and mobile phone networks were cut in much of Palu, while roads and bridges were damaged or collapsed, making efforts to help and recover victims more difficult, Sutopo said.

Most of 560 inmates in a jail in Palu escaped after its walls collapsed due to the earthquake, prison governor Adhi Yan Ricoh told the Antara news agency.

He said guards were overpowered by the inmates because they were outnumbered.

"Apart from that, the guards were also too busy trying to save themselves," Adhi was quoted as saying.

Capturing the escapees is not a priority at the moment as authorities were still struggling in the aftermath of the disaster, Adhi said.

Palu's Mutiara airport was closed for several hours due to damage to its control tower and runway, with only helicopters able to land there, Air Force spokesperson Novyan Samyoga said.  It reopened Saturday.

An air traffic controller working at the airport was killed in the earthquake, the state-owned air navigation company AirNav Indonesia said.

Komang Adi Sujendra, director of Undata General Hospital in Palu, appealed for the construction of a field hospital after buildings were damaged.

“We need medical workers, drugs and blankets," he said in a video message circulated by the Indonesian Medical Association.

Palu's Pantoloan Port stopped operations after its quay cranes were toppled in the earthquake, the Transportation Ministry said.

President Joko Widodo appealed for calm, saying he was monitoring the rescue and relief effort closely.

He said he had dispatched his top security minister, Wiranto, the disaster agency and the military to Central Sulawesi “to handle the emergency relief effort as quickly as possible.”

"May we together overcome and pass this tribulation," he said.

People walk past dead bodies (with blue covers) a day after two earthquakes and a tsunami hit Palu, Sulawesi, Sept. 29, 2018. [AFP]
People walk past dead bodies (with blue covers) a day after two earthquakes and a tsunami hit Palu, Sulawesi, Sept. 29, 2018. [AFP]

 

Friday’s quakes came after at least 555 people were killed and more than 400,000 were made homeless in August in a series of powerful quakes that devastated the island of Lombok.

Indonesia straddles the so-called Ring of Fire, an area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean known for frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. 

On Dec. 26, 2004, about 130,000 people died in Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh when a magnitude 9.1 earthquake occurred off the west coast of Sumatra, spawning a series of devastating tsunamis. That quake killed at least 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

Graphic shows the location of two earthquakes that struck Central Sulawesi in Indonesia on Friday, Sept. 28, triggering a tsunami. [AP]
Graphic shows the location of two earthquakes that struck Central Sulawesi in Indonesia on Friday, Sept. 28, triggering a tsunami. [AP]

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