Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered more rescuers to be sent in to find victims of a devastating earthquake and tsunami on Tuesday as the official death toll rose above 1,200. Most of the dead have been from the small city of Palu, 1500 km northeast of Jakarta but some remote areas have been cut off since Friday’s 7.5 magnitude quake triggered tsunami waves leading to fears the toll could soar.
“There are some main priorities that we must tackle and the first is to evacuate, find and save victims who’ve not yet been found,” Widodo told a government meeting to coordinate disaster recovery efforts on the west coast of Sulawesi island. He said he had ordered the national search and rescue agency to send more police and soldiers into the affected districts, some cut off by destroyed roads, landslides and downed bridges.
The official death toll surged to 1,234 the national disaster agency said.
The Red Cross said the situation was “nightmarish” and reports from its workers venturing into one cut-off area, Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and close to the epicenter, indicated it had been hit “extremely hard”. Four badly hit districts have a combined population of about 1.4 million.
In Palu, tsunami waves as high as six meters (20 feet) smashed into the beachfront, while hotels and shopping malls collapsed in ruins and some neighborhoods were swallowed up by ground liquefaction.
Among those killed were 34 children at a Christian bible study camp, a Red Cross official said.
Indonesia is all too familiar with earthquakes and tsunamis. A quake in 2004 triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.
Rescuers in Palu held out hope they could still save lives.
More than 65,000 homes were damaged and more than 60,000 people have been displaced and are in need of emergency help, while thousands have been streaming out of stricken areas.