JAKARTA – Many bodies were found on Saturday along the shoreline of the Indonesian city of Palu on Sulawesi island which was hit by a major earthquake and tsunami, as the death toll rose to 48 people and hundreds unaccounted for, authorities said.
Strong aftershocks continued to rock the coastal city on Saturday morning after waves up to three meters (9.8 feet) high swept through the scenic tourist town, triggered by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on land.
“Many bodies were found along the shoreline because of the tsunami, but the numbers are still unknown,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency BNPB said in news briefing in Jakarta.
At least 48 people had been killed and the death toll was expected to rise, said Nugroho.
Hundreds of people who were preparing for a beach festival to celebrate Palu’s anniversary were unaccounted for, he said. The festival was due to start Friday night.
Photos confirmed by authorities showed bodies being lined up along the street, some in bags and some with their faces covered with clothes.
Amateur footage shown by local TV stations, which could not immediately be authenticated by Reuters, showed waters crashing into houses along Palu’s shoreline, scattering shipping containers and flooding into a mosque in the city.
Nugroho described the damage as “extensive” with thousands of houses, hospitals, shopping malls and hotels collapsed, a bridge washed away and the main highway to Palu cut due to a landslide.
Bodies of some victims were found trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, he said, adding that more than 350 people were injured. Dozens of injured people were being treated in makeshift medical tents set up outdoors, TV images showed.
Indonesia’s meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG issued a tsunami warning after the quake, but lifted it 34 minutes later. The agency has been widely criticized for not informing a tsunami had hit Palu on Saturday, though officials said waves had come within the time the warning was issued.
The quake and tsunami caused a major power outage that cut communications around Palu and on Saturday authorities were still having difficulties coordinating rescue efforts.
The disaster mitigation agency has not been able to get any information from the fishing town of Donggala, closer to the epicenter of the quake 27 km (16 miles) away. More than 600,000 people live in Donggala and Palu.
Chief security minister Wiranto told TVOne the military had started sending in cargo planes from the capital Jakarta carrying relief aid.
The city’s airport remained closed after its runway and air traffic c,Indonesia, control tower was damaged in the quake but officials said they were preparing to reopen to allow aid to come in.