Indonesia Death Toll Jumps to 832

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original

The death toll from the earthquake-tsunami disaster in Indonesia has more than doubled, rising to 832, with 540 injured people, according to Indonesian officials.

Authorities have said they expect the death toll to rise.

"The casualties will keep increasing," said national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, whose agency announced the jump in the toll from 420 earlier.

"Today we will start the mass burial of victims, to avoid the spread of disease," he added, according to the French Press Agency.

Indonesian President Widodo arrived Sunday in the city of Palu, one of the places devastated by an earthquake and a subsequent tsunami, to personally survey the destruction.

He addressed the troops deployed to the area and asked them to "be ready to work day and night."

Almost 17,000 people have sought refuge in 24 shelters, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

People are trapped in the rubble in the hard-hit city of Palu and can still be heard crying for help, said Muhammad Syaugi, the head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency.

"What we now desperately need is heavy machinery to clear the rubble," Syaugi said. "I have my staff on the ground, but it's impossible just to rely on their strength alone to clear this."

Vice President Jusuf Kalla predicts the death toll could reach into the thousands since officials have had trouble relaying information from remote areas because of downed power lines.

A military cargo plane evacuated the injured and stranded Sunday from Palu.

The massive wave hit Palu and Donggala in central Sulawesi province. Hundreds were injured Friday by the 7.5-magnitude earthquake that triggered the six-meter high tsunami. The region has experience 209 aftershocks and serious damage to the airport, roads, communications and other important infrastructure.

The death toll is only for Palu as officials have not received any information from Donggala.

The Red Cross said in a statement, "We have heard nothing from Donggala and this is extremely worrying. There are more than 300,000 people living there. This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse."

Authorities said Saturday hundreds of people were on the beach in Palu for a festival when the earthquake and tsunami struck, sweeping many away to their deaths in the giant waves.

VOA's former bureau chief in Jakarta Frans Padak Demon, who was in Palu when the tsunami hit, estimates that there were as many as "thousands of people in Talise Beach" around 5pm on Friday for an event commemorating the anniversary of the city of Palu.

After his hotel collapsed, Demon told VOA's Indonesian service that he headed for higher ground along with a woman who had suffered injuries from debris including wood from collapsed buildings picked up by the waves. He said the woman told him that four of her children had been swept away by the tsunami.

Television footage showed people being treated outdoors in makeshift medical facilities, while bodies, some of them in bags, are lined up on the streets.

VOA Indonesian service correspondent Yoanes Litha was in the small town of Parigi Saturday night after his trek by motorcycle to nearby Palu was delayed by more than 10 hours because all roads and bridges were either damaged or blocked by landslides.

VOA's Indonesia Service contributed to this report.