Indonesia – Indonesia scrambled on Monday to get help into quake-hit Sulawesi island as survivors streamed away from their ruined homes and accounts of devastation filtered out of remote areas, including the death of 34 children at a Christian camp.
The confirmed death toll of 844 was certain to rise as rescuers reached devastated outlying communities hit on Friday by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami waves as high as six meters (20 feet).
Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of several hotels and a mall in the small city of Palu, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of Jakarta. Hundreds more were feared buried in landslides that engulfed villages.
Of particular concern is Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and close to the epicenter of the quake, and two other districts, where communication had been cut off.
One woman was recovered alive from ruins overnight in the Palu neighborhood of Balaroa, where about 1,700 houses were swallowed up when the earthquake caused soil to liquefy, the national rescue agency said.
“We don’t know how many victims could be buried there, it’s estimated hundreds,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
All but 23 of the confirmed deaths were in Palu, a city of about 380,000 people, where workers were preparing a mass grave to bury the dead as soon as they were identified.
Nearly three days after the quake, the extent of the disaster was not known with authorities bracing for the toll to climb – perhaps into the thousands – as connections with remote areas up and down the coast are restored.
Aid worker Lian Gogali, who had reached Donggala district by motorcycle, said hundreds of people facing a lack of food and medicine were trying to get out, but evacuation teams had yet to arrive and roads were blocked.
“It’s devastating,” she told Reuters by text.
Indonesian Red Cross spokeswoman Aulia Arriani said a church in an area of Sigi, south of Palu, had been engulfed in mud and debris. Officials said the area suffered liquefaction, when the shock of the quake temporarily destabilizes the soil.
“My volunteers found 34 bodies … children who had been doing a bible camp,” Arriani said.
Sulawesi is one of the earthquake-prone archipelago nation’s five main islands and sits astride fault lines. Numerous aftershocks have rattled the region.