PALU, Indonesia (AP) - Rescuers struggled Sunday to reach victims in several large coastal towns in Indonesia that were hit by an earthquake and tsunami, and authorities feared that the toll of more than 800 confirmed dead would rise.
With the area largely cut off by damaged roads and downed communications lines, military and commercial aircraft were delivering some aid and supplies to the hard-hit city of Palu on the island of Sulawesi, and others in the region.
But there was a desperate need for heavy equipment to reach possible survivors buried in collapsed buildings, including an eight-story hotel in Palu where voices were heard in the rubble. A 25-year-old woman was found alive during the evening in the ruins of the Roa-Roa Hotel, according to the National Search and Rescue Agency, which released photos of the her lying on a stretcher covered in a blanket.
At least 832 people were confirmed killed by the quake and tsunami that struck Friday evening, Indonesia’s disaster agency said, with nearly all of those from Palu. The regencies of Donggala, Sigi and Parigi Moutong - with a combined population of 1.2 million - had yet to be fully assessed.
“The death toll is believed to be still increasing, since many bodies were still under the wreckage, while many have not been reached,” said disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
Bodies covered in blue and yellow tarps lined the streets of Palu, and officials said they were digging a mass grave for at least 300 of the dead.
It was not immediately known when the burial would take place, but “this must be done as soon as possible for health and religious reasons,” said Willem Rampangilei, head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency. Most of Palu’s residents are Muslim.
The cries from beneath the Roa-Roa Hotel, which appeared to have toppled over with its walls splintered like pickup sticks, went silent by Sunday afternoon. Officials had estimated about 50 people could be inside.
“We are trying our best. Time is so important here to save people,” said Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search and rescue team. “Heavy equipment is on the way.”
Metro TV showed about a dozen rescuers in orange jumpsuits climbing over debris with a stretcher carrying the body of a victim from the modest business hotel.
Other rescuers worked to free a 15-year-old girl trapped under concrete in her house in Palu after it collapsed on her family during the magnitude 7.5 earthquake that spawned a tsunami.
Unable to move her legs under the rubble, Nurul Istikharah was trapped beside her dead mother and niece. Rescuers also tried to control water from a leaking pipe, fearing she would drown.