Indonesia rescue operation underway; earthquake, tsunami kills 384 people leaving others injured

Jakarta: Hunting for survivors, rescue workers are striving hard to save people after a powerful earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and triggered a tsunami, killing at least 384 people. After the 7.5-magnitude earthquake hit Friday, water smashed into buildings and swept away homes in the coastal city of Palu city, home to 350,000 people.

More than 540 people are being treated in several local hospitals amid the massive destruction in Palu and 29 people are missing. Electricity and communications have been cut off, making it difficult to assess the damage in Palu and nearby fishing community of Donggala.

With Palu airport closed, relief workers have to make their way to Palu by road. Sulawesi is one of the biggest islands in the world and the drive from the nearest airport is around 10-12 hours. In Palu, authorities are still urging residents to not go inside their homes and sleep away from buildings – fields, roads or yards because of the danger from aftershocks.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo said the military was being called in to the disaster-struck region to help search-and-rescue teams get to victims and find bodies. People living hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre reported feeling the massive shake, which came hours after a smaller jolt killed at least one person in the same part of the country.

The quake hit just off central Sulawesi at a depth of 10 kilometres just before 1100 GMT — early evening in Sulawesi — the US Geological Survey said. Such shallow quakes tend to be more destructive.

Pictures supplied by the disaster 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.

Homes and a local hotel were flattened while a landmark city bridge was destroyed. A key access road had been badly damaged and was blocked by landslides, the disaster agency said.

The main airport in Palu, capital of South Sulawesi province, was shut after the tsunami struck and was expected to stay closed for at least 24 hours, complicating any disaster relief efforts. Friday’s tremor was also felt in the far south of the island in its largest city Makassar and on neighbouring Kalimantan, Indonesia’s portion of Borneo island.

Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone nations on earth.

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