Death toll approaches 400 in Sulawesi earthquake aftermath

Rescuers are still struggling to reach remote communities on the island of Sulawesi hit by an earthquake and tsunami just before 6pm, local time, on Friday.

A spokesperson of the local disaster agency has confirmed that the official death toll is now up to 384, almost all from the coastal township of Palu as a result of a tsunami. A beach festival was just about to start and local muslims were heading to evening prayers when the 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit and produced the 2-3 metre high wall of water sweeping into the coastal town of approximately 335,000.

A large mosque, a multi-story shopping centre and 80-room hotel are just some of the major structures to have been substantially damaged by the waves. The mosque was already damaged by the quake before the tsunami came crashing through.

Hospitals in Palu remain swamped with patients lying on the ground hooked to drips as NGOs flood in to provide relief to the hundreds of injured. Many of the injured are being treated outdoors due to ongoing aftershocks. Many residents in the area were also sleeping outside, afraid to head back indoors.

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Other coastal townships’ local communications have been cut off and rescue workers haven’t yet reported from those areas, also expected to have been devastated by the tsunami.

In nearby Donggala, home to nearly 300,000 people, a large bridge with yellow arches that spanned a coastal river had collapsed.

But rescue workers predict the death toll will continue to soar as they reach some of the more remote communities of the island. Nine villages have made contact with rescue co-ordinators calling for assistance.

The US Geological Survey said the strongest quake on Friday had a magnitude of 7.5 and was centred at a depth of 10km, about 55 kilometres northeast of Donggala.

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