At least 50 people have been confirmed dead by officials on Saturday after a strong tsunami triggered by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake hit a coastal Indonesian city on Friday.
Over 350 others were injured, a disaster agency official said on Saturday after three shallow quakes of 6.0, 7.4 and 6.1-magnitude struck off the central province and triggered the tsunami near Talisa beach of Dongala district.
Waves up to 2 metre high swept through Palu on Sulawesi island. Video on social media showed people screaming and fleeing in panic and a mosque amongst the buildings damaged, the BBC reported.
All victims have been rushed to hospitals, spokesman of the national disaster management agency Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
The casualties were only counted in Palu, and the victims in Donggala district, including the coastal areas near Talisa beach, were not included in the figure, Nugroho told Xinhua news agency.
“Accordingly, the death toll and injuries as well as the damage will likely climb,” he said. Most victims were hit by debris and falling blocks of concretes.
The tsunami triggered by the quake devastated buildings and residential areas in the coastal areas. Specific damage was still unknown as the risk assessment was underway, the meteorology and geophysics agency said.
Soldiers, police, disaster management agency personnel and volunteers were evacuating the quake and tsunami victims. Power outage has cut off communications hampering relief efforts, Nugroho said.
“We have not received comprehensive reports yet because communications are cut. Many bodies were found along the shoreline because of the tsunami, but the numbers are still unknown,” Nugroho told the media.
It was not clear whether the deaths came in the quake or the resulting tsunami.
Palu is home to more than 300,000 people. Rescue operations have started but a minister said that communications had been disrupted and that the runway in the city was damaged, although it was hoped that helicopters would still be able to land.
The Jakarta Post reported that Hercules aircraft was deployed to provide disaster relief in Palu.
The earthquake hit around 6 p.m. on Friday. A tsunami warning was issued, but lifted within the hour. Dramatic video of the tsunami hitting Palu showed high waves sweeping away several buildings and then the large tilted mosque in the town, about 80 km from the quake’s epicentre.
“The situation is chaotic, people are running on the streets and buildings collapsed. There is a ship washed ashore,” said Dwikorita Karnawati, head of Indonesia’s meteorology and geophysics agency.
In August, a series of deadly quakes struck the Indonesian island of Lombok, with the biggest, on August 5, killing more than 460.
A 2004 tsunami triggered by an earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra killed 226,000 across the Indian Ocean, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.
Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because it lies on the Ring of Fire — the line of frequent quakes and volcanic eruptions that circles virtually the entire Pacific rim.
More than half of the world’s active volcanoes above sea level are part of the ring.