UPDATE – Death toll from Indonesia quake, tsunami reaches 832


By Mahmut Atanur

JAKARTA (AA) – The death toll from Friday’s 7.7-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has risen to 832, the national disaster agency said on Sunday.

The tsunami, towering up to three meters high, hit Palu, capital of the Central Sulawesi province, and the northeast of the nearby Donggala Regency.

A total of 821 of the deaths were confirmed in Palu, while the other 11 victims are from the city of Donggala, National Disaster Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told reporters.

Rescuers were struggling in their efforts as many of the roads leading to Palu are damaged, Willem Rampangilei, head of the agency, was quoted by the country's national newspaper Kompas as saying on Saturday. 

According to Anadolu Agency reporters on the ground, many cell phone towers were downed, crippling the local telecommunications infrastructure.

After its 500-meter airstrip was damaged, Palu’s airport was closed to most flights.

The airport is open for humanitarian and military purposes using Hercules aircraft and helicopters.

There are long lines at the airport to ferry reporters to and from affected areas via Indonesian military Hercules aircraft.

Indonesian troops have been deployed to reach the affected area to help survivors.

Meanwhile, Indonesian President Joko Widodo was scheduled to visit affected areas of the city on Sunday.

 On Saturday, Indonesia declared a state of emergency for the island.

Over the last two months, three more earthquakes with magnitudes 6.3, 6.9, and 7 hit the eastern island of Lombok, killing a total of 563 people.

Indonesia lies within the Pacific Ocean’s "Ring of Fire" where tectonic plates collide and cause frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

On Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake struck the eastern coast of Sumatra, triggering a tsunami that killed around 230,000 people as it tore along the coasts of Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.