Death toll of Sulawesi tsunami and quake could be in the thousands

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The collapsed Roa-Roa Hotel in Palu, where rescuers are continuing to hunt for survivors

The death toll following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has passed 800 — and continues to rise.

The national disaster agency confirmed today (Sunday, September 30) that the affected area was larger than initially thought.

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Many people were reported trapped in the rubble of buildings that collapsed in Friday’s 7.5-magnitude earthquake, agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference.

The quake triggered tsunami waves as high as 20 feet, he added.

Rescuers have been digging by hand in the frantic search for survivors in the city of Palu.

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“What we now desperately need is heavy machinery to clear the rubble. I have my staff on the ground, but it’s impossible just to rely on their strength alone to clear this,” Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search-and-rescue agency, told the AFP news agency.

There have also been concerns about the town of Donggala, where the extent of the damage remains unclear.

The Red Cross estimates that more than 1.6 million people have been affected by the tragedy, which “could get much worse”.

Indonesia’s Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said the final death toll could be in the thousands.

Strong aftershocks have continued to hit the island since the main quake.

President Joko Widodo is in Palu and is viewing sites affected by the disaster, including Talise Beach — a popular tourist area that was pummelled by the tsunami.

Many remain missing in the city of 335,000, some thought to be trapped in the debris of collapsed buildings.

Rescue teams have been digging by hand to free 24 people trapped in the rubble of Palu’s Roa-Roa Hotel, but there are fears more survivors remain trapped.

Bodies have been lying in city streets and the injured are being treated in tents because of damage to hospitals.

Survivors bedded down in the open air last night, heeding advice not to return to their homes while aftershocks continue.

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