Dozens are feared dead on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi after a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that swept away homes, buildings and bridges on Friday evening.
Rescuers have scrambled to reach hard-hit areas after a 1.5-metre (5ft) wave thundered over the coastline, crashing into Palu, the capital of central Sulawesi province, a smaller city in Donggala and several other coastal settlements, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster agency.
|A man stands amid the damage caused by a tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, on Saturday. Photograph: AP
Indonesia’s Metro TV channel quoted one hospital official as saying at least 30 people had died but this has not been confirmed. Nugroho said in a television interview there are “many victims”, with families reported missing. However, communications and power supplies have been disrupted, hampering efforts to get information.
Dozens of injured people were being treated in makeshift medical tents set up outdoors, TV images showed.
Early witness reports said the tsunami had claimed lives on Talise beach in Palu city. “Many corpses are scattered on the beach and floating on the surface of the sea,” Nining, a resident, told Kompas.com Nining said she had identified victims amongst the debris of the coastal area, which has reportedly sustained severe damage.
Search and rescue teams have been sent to hard-hit areas, Nugroho said on Saturday. On Friday he said military transport planes and helicopters would be deployed on Saturday, along with “all national potential”.
“There are reports that many buildings collapsed in the earthquake,” he said. “Residents panicked and scattered out of their homes.”
The shallow 7.5 magnitude tremor was more powerful than a series of quakes that killed hundreds on the Indonesian island of Lombok in July and August.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries after the tremor, but people living hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre reported feeling the massive shake, hours after a smaller jolt killed at least one person in the same part of the south-east Asian archipelago.
Dramatic video footage filmed from the top floor of a parking ramp in Palu, nearly 80km (50 miles) from the quake’s epicentre, showed waves of water bring down several buildings and inundate a large mosque.
Pictures supplied by the agency showed a badly damaged shopping mall in Palu where at least one floor had collapsed onto the storey below, while other photographs showed major damage to buildings and large cracks across pavements.
A magnitude 7.5 earthquake on Friday was followed by numerous strong aftershocks, including one of magnitude 6.7. An earlier magnitude 6.1 quake in central Sulawesi killed several people, injured 10 and damaged dozens of houses.
Sutopo said the military would deploy troops to Palu and Donggala and the national police would mobilise officers to help with the emergency response.
Palu’s airport halted operations for 24 hours owing to earthquake damage, according to AirNav, which oversees airline traffic in Indonesia.
Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the so-called Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and faultlines in the Pacific Basin.
Earlier this year, a series of powerful quakes hit Lombok, killing more than 550 people on the holiday island and neighbouring Sumbawa. Some 1,500 people were injured and about 400,000 residents were displaced after their homes were destroyed.
In December 2004 a magnitude 9.1 quake off Sumatra in western Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.