Rescuers rush to reach tsunami victims in Indonesia | News | DW | 30.09.2018
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Rescuers rush to reach tsunami victims in Indonesia

Rescuers are struggling to reach victims in several large coastal towns in Indonesia that were hit by an earthquake and tsunami. Thousands are feared dead.

Survivors were heard calling for help from the destroyed Roa-Roa Hotel in Indonesia's resort town of Palu, following a strong earthquake and a tsunamithat hit the island of Sulawesi. 

Officials estimate that up to 50 people could be trapped below the crumbled eight-story building, with rescuers managing to evacuate at least one woman on Sunday.

"We are trying our best," said the head of the national search and rescue team, Muhammad Syaugi, earlier in the day. "Heavy equipment is on the way."

Read moreFive facts about the most earthquake prone region in the world

The Indonesian government was struggling to mount a response to the destruction caused by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake which triggered the tsunami on Friday. The Southeast Asian country on Monday called for international help to deal with the aftermath.

President Joko Widodo "authorized us to accept international help for urgent disaster-response" the government's head of investment Tom Lembong said.

At least 832 people lost their lives, the country's disaster agency said on Sunday, but the government fears that the actual death toll might be in the thousands. Local hospitals are overwhelmed.

"We need all the help we can get," said Komang Adi Sujendra, director of the state-run Undata hospital in Palu. "We need field hospitals, medical workers, medicines and blankets."

Read moreIndonesia's Lombok Island hit by deadly earthquake

Watch video 02:15

Death toll from quakes and tsunami in Sulawesi soars

Mass burials to start

Rescue teams were still guessing at the scale of destruction outside the Sulawesi capital Palu, especially in nearby Donggala, a city of 300,000 people that remained cut off from communications. The regencies of Sigi and Parigi Moutong were also yet to be assessed.

"The death toll is believed to be still increasing since many bodies were still under the wreckage, while many have not been reached," said disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

"We haven't received reports from the three other areas," Nugroho added. "Communication is still down, power is still out."

"Today we will start the mass burial of victims, to avoid the spread of disease."

Agency chief Willem Rampangilei said the mass grave it is digging in the city of Palu will be 10 by 100 meters (33 feet by 330 feet) in size and can be expanded if needed. It will initially hold at least 300 bodies.

Widodo arrives on the island

Palu's Mutiara airport reopened late on Saturday, allowing military cargo planes to deliver relief supplies. Authorities are accepting humanitarian flights and limited commercial flights, and only those with pilots who are able to land without relying on guidance from the ground.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited the island on Sunday.

"I know there are many problems that need to be solved in a short time, including communications," he said, pledging to rebuild Palu.

He said more heavy machinery was being deployed to help emergency workers continue recovering victims on Monday.

Read moreIndian Ocean nations mark anniversary of 2004 tsunami

With food and drinking water scarce, soldiers began distributing rations to survivors. Media showed people looting from the heavily damaged malls and stores, with others returning to their homes in an attempt to salvage any remains.

The latest tsunami prompted memories of the catastrophic tsunami in December 2004, which was caused by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off Sumatra. The tsunami killed 168,000 people in Indonesia and 52,000 more in other countries in the region.

Watch video 01:12

Powerful earthquake hits Indonesian island Sulawesi

dj/kms (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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