Mass burial begins after more than 800 people killed by Indonesia earthquake and tsunami

More than 800 people are now known to have died after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Indonesia.

Rescuers were desperately searching for victims trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings and the death toll is expected to rise once rescuers reached more cut-off areas on the island of Sulawesi, where the tsunami hit on Friday.

A mass burial of victims began in a hard-hit city Monday as the need for heavy equipment to dig for survivors of the disaster grows increasingly desperate.

On Sunday Indonesia's disaster agency put the number of dead at 832.

Of those, 821 were killed in the city of Palu, while 11 are known to have died in nearby Donggala.

Damaged roads and disrupted telecommunications have prevented rescuers and aid from reaching many areas and there is limited information on the impact in more remote areas.

Looters were seen at a a shopping mall badly damaged by the magnitude 7.5 earthquake in Palu.

  • Drone footage shows extent of damage caused

Muhammad Syaugi, the head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, said he could hear people calling out for help from the collapsed eight-story Roa-Roa Hotel in Palu.

“I can still hear the voice of the survivors screaming for help while inspecting the compound,” he said, adding there could be 50 people trapped inside.

Disaster agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said “tens to hundreds” of people were taking part in a beach festival in Palu when the tsunami struck at dusk on Friday.

Some of the injured rested outside Palu’s Army Hospital, where patients were being treated outdoors due to fears of aftershocks.

People survey damage outside a shopping mall in Palu. Credit: AP

The pressure of the earthquake caused soil liquefaction in some places - making the earth appear like liquid due to the stress and shaking it was under.

Dwi Haris, who suffered a broken back and shoulder, became tearful as he recounted feeling the violent earthquake shake the fifth-floor hotel room he was sharing with his wife and daughter. Their fate is unknown.

“There was no time to save ourselves. I was squeezed into the ruins of the wall, I think,” said Mr Haris. “I heard my wife cry for help, but then silence. I don’t know what happened to her and my child. I hope they are safe.”

It is the latest natural disaster to hit Indonesia, which is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

Last month, a powerful earthquake on the island of Lombok killed 505 people.

Many of those known to have died were in the city of Palu.

Palu, which has more than 380,000 people, was strewn with debris from the earthquake and tsunami.

A mosque heavily damaged by the earthquake was half submerged and a shopping centre was reduced to a crumpled hulk. A large bridge with yellow arches had collapsed.

The city is built around a narrow bay that apparently magnified the force of the tsunami waters as they raced into the tight inlet.

Indonesian TV showed dramatic smartphone video of a powerful wave hitting Palu, with people screaming and running in fear. The water smashed into buildings and the mosque.

A mosque heavily damaged by the earthquake was half submerged. Credit: AP

The earthquake left mangled buildings with collapsed awnings, and roads were buckled and cracked. The tsunami created even more destruction. It was reported as being 10 feet high in some areas and double that height elsewhere.

“We hope there will be international satellites crossing over Indonesia that can capture images and provide them to us so we can use the images to prepare humanitarian aid,” Mr Nugroho said.

The disaster agency has said that essential aircraft can land at Palu’s airport, but AirNav, which oversees aircraft navigation, said the runway was cracked and the control tower damaged.

AirNav said one of its air traffic controllers, aged 21, died in the earthquake after staying in the tower to ensure a flight he had just cleared for departure got airborne safely.

Palu is home to more than 380,000 people. Credit: AP