Tsunami kills hundreds in Indonesia's Sulawesi after natural disaster

The earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island

It triggered a deadly tsunami off the coast of the city of Palu, which is home to 350,000 people.

The tsunami, which followed a magnitude-7.5 natural disaster, swept away buildings and unsuspecting victims caught in its path.

"When the (tsunami) threat arose yesterday, people were still doing their activities on the beach and did not immediately run and they became victims", said the spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency BNPB, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, in Jakarta.

In December 2004, a massive magnitude 9.1 quake off Sumatra island in western Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

The tsunami was "about three meters high", Nugroho said.

Footage captured from the top floor of a parking ramp in Palu, almost 80km from the epicenter, showed waves bring down several buildings and inundating a large mosque.

Photos confirmed by authorities showed bodies being lined up along the street on Saturday, some in bags and some with their faces covered with clothes.

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In Palu, about 17,000 people have been evacuated, scattered across centres in 24 locations.

Aerial photographs released by the disaster agency showed many buildings and shops destroyed, bridges twisted and collapsed and a mosque surrounded by water. They were being treated outdoors due to continuing strong aftershocks, and many residents in the area were also sleeping outside, too afraid to return indoors. The series of earthquakes were felt in an area with 2.4 million people.

"We felt a deep heartbreak, may God gives Anthonius the best place beside him, along with other victims of Donggala natural disaster", said a spokesperson for Air Nav Indonesia, the country's aircraft navigation agency.

The city is built around a narrow bay that apparently magnified the force of the tsunami waters as they raced into the tight inlet. A bridge was washed away and the main highway to Palu was cut off due to a landslide.

Search operations continue for those thought to be trapped under the debris of collapsed buildings in the city of Palu, the closest to the epicenter.

At least 540 people had been badly injured as hospitals struggled to cope with the influx of casualties.

There were also concerns over the whereabouts of hundreds of people who had been preparing for a beach festival when the 7.5-magnitude quake struck Friday, sparking a tsunami that ripped apart the city's coastline. Catholic Relief Services' partners were trying to drive to Palu, she said, but only made it halfway there and had to resume travel in the morning.

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"We're now getting limited communications about the destruction in Palu city, but we have heard nothing from Donggala and this is extremely worrying", Red Cross said. "There are more than 300,000 people living there", the Red Cross said in a statement.

"This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse".

Medical team members help patients outside a hospital after an natural disaster and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. Within minutes a wall of water crashes onto the shore, carrying away buildings and cars. Reuters was not able to authenticate the footage.

Communications with the area are hard because power and telecommunications are cut, hampering search and rescue efforts.

The military has started sending in aircraft with aid from Jakarta and other cities, authorities said.

Per ABC News reports, personnel in the control tower at the Mutiara Sis Al Jufri Airport fled for their lives when news of the 7.5 magnitude quake came in, but Agung chose to remain at his post to guide a Batik Air flight, which was on the runway at the time.

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