The powerful earthquake followed by a tsunami that struck Indonesia’s Sulawesi island on Friday killed nearly 400 people, while local hospitals are struggling to cope with the emergency and aid is trying to region.
“384 people have died,” according to hospital figures, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the disaster management agency, said on Saturday. The number of injured reached 540, he added, during a scrum.
“We have deployed thousands of people, including the army and police” and more than 16,000 people have been evacuated at this stage, according to the spokesman.
Images from the city of Palu (350,000 inhabitants) on the west coast of Celebes showed bodies lying near the coast, some covered with blue blankets. Carcasses of vehicles and buildings reduced to piles of debris testify to the violence of the tremors and the wave that hit the coast.
The agency is also worried about the fate of several hundred people who were working on preparing a festival on a Palu beach Friday night shortly before the tsunami.
While some hospitals were damaged and others were overwhelmed by the influx of casualties, many wounded were treated in the open air. People were carrying somehow dead bodies. Elsewhere, a man was carrying the body of a child covered in mud.
The earthquake struck mainly Palu and the region near Donggala. “In Palu (…) there are buildings, houses, which have been destroyed (…) hotels, hospitals,” said the spokesman.
“We believe that dozens or hundreds (of victims) have not yet been cleared of rubble, the main shopping center of Palu (…) has collapsed”. “The hotel Rua-Rua (…) has collapsed, it had 80 rooms of which 76 were occupied,” he detailed.
“The Indonesian Red Cross is running against the clock to help survivors, but we do not know what we are going to find there,” said Jan Gelfand, an official with the International Federation of Red Cross Societies. and the Red Crescent (IFRC) in Jakarta.
While the tremors were felt hundreds of kilometers away, very little information came from Donggala, a region north of Palu where at least one person died in the earthquakes. “We have no information from Donggala and this is very worrying,” said the official.
– Hotels and a shopping center destroyed –
At a magnitude of 7.5, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake that struck the island just before 11:00 GMT Friday is more powerful than the series of earthquakes that Indonesia experienced in August, which left more than 500 dead and about 1,500 wounded on the island of Lombok, neighboring Bali.
A tsunami started soon after on the coast near Palu.
The panic pushed the inhabitants to flee towards the heights of the city, according to images of the local televisions. A video shows an imposing wave crashing into several buildings and flooding a mosque.
“I started running when I saw waves crashing down the coast,” Palu resident Rusidanto told AFP, who, like many Indonesians, has only one name.
– The army called for help –
Images released by the disaster management agency show significant damage: a collapsed shopping center, cracked roads. Videos show that the city’s iconic yellow suspension bridge collapsed, rushing vehicles into the water.
A strategic road to reach the city was blocked by a landslide, according to the agency.
Electricity is partially cut off in the city, the airport has been closed as well as some roads leading to the city.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced that the army had been called to assist in the search operations of victims in the area.
The European Union has activated a satellite to help the Indonesian authorities to map the situation.
The epicenter of the earthquake is 78 kilometers north of Palu. The earthquake was felt as far south as Makassar, the capital of the island. The earth has also trembled on the neighboring island of Kalimantan (Indonesian part of Borneo), on the other side of the Makassar Strait.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands and islets that was formed by the convergence of three large tectonic plates (Indo-Pacific, Australian, Eurasian), is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of high seismic activity. .
On December 26, 2004, Indonesia was hit by a series of devastating earthquakes, including a magnitude 9.1 earthquake on the island of Sumatra. This earthquake caused a tsunami that killed 220,000 people in the region, including 168,000 in Indonesia alone.
In 2006, nearly 6,000 people were killed in an earthquake on the island of Java. The magnitude 6.3 earthquake (according to the USGS) occurred in a populated area south of the large university town of Yogyakarta.