The toll from an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia soared on Sunday to 832 confirmed dead, with authorities fearing it will only climb as rescuers struggle to reach outlying communities cut off from communications and help.
Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of two hotels and a mall in the city of Palu, which was hit by waves as high as six metres (20 feet) following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday.
A woman was pulled alive from the debris of the city’s Roa Roa Hotel, where up to 60 people were believed trapped. Hundreds of people gathered at the wrecked mall searching for loved ones.
With most of the confirmed deaths 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 close to the epicentre of the quake, and two other districts.
Vice-president Jusuf Kalla said the toll could rise into the thousands.
President Joko Widodo visited a housing complex flattened when the quake liquefied the soil it stood on, and called for patience.
“I know there are many problems that need to be solved in a short time, including communications,” he said.
The ruins would be rebuilt, he said, as aftershocks rattled the region 48 hours after the quake.
Scores of residents shouted “we’re hungry, we need food” as soldiers distributed rations from a truck in one neighbourhood, while elsewhere television showed pictures of people making off with clothes and other items from a wrecked mall.
Internal affairs minister Tjahjo Kumolo, asked about reports of sporadic looting, said he had ordered authorities to help people get food and drink and businesses would be compensated.
A spokesman for the national disaster mitigation agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, told a news conference that the affected area was bigger than initially thought, and rescuers only had good access to one of four affected districts – Palu.
“We haven’t received reports from the three other areas. Communication is still down, power is still out. We don’t know for sure what is the impact,” he said.
“There are many areas where the search and rescue teams haven’t been able to reach,” he said, adding that teams needed heavy equipment to move broken concrete and debris.
Donggala town has been damaged badly, according to a reporter on the scene.
Five foreigners – three French, one South Korean and one Malaysian – were among the missing, the spokesman said. The 832 dead included people crushed in the quake and swept away by the tsunami.
About 16,000 displaced people needed clean water, while 540 were injured, many getting treatment in tents.
Finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the government had allocated 560 billion rupiah (€32.37 million) for disaster recovery, media reported.
President Michael D Higgins has sent his condolences to the people of Indonesia on Saturday.
“Sabina and I send our condolences to those who have lost family members or have been injured and affected by the disaster,” he said.
“All praise is due to the first responders and to all those who have come to the aid of the victims. May they receive the urgent assistance, and the solidarity, they need from the global community and its institutions.”