At least 384 people were killed, many swept away as giant waves crashed onto beaches, when a major earthquake and tsunami hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, authorities said on Saturday.
Hundreds had gathered for a festival on the beach in the city of Palu on Friday when waves as high as six meters (18 feet) smashed onshore at dusk, sweeping many to their death and destroying anything in their path, following a 7.5 magnitude earthquake.
"When the (tsunami) threat arose yesterday, people were still doing their activities on the beach and did not immediately run and they became victims," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency BNPB said in a briefing in Jakarta.
"The tsunami didn't come by itself, it dragged cars, logs, houses, it hit everything on land," Nugroho said, adding that the tsunami had traveled across the open sea at speeds of 800 kph (497 mph) before striking the shoreline.
Some people climbed six meter trees to escape the tsunami and survived, he said.
Amateur footage shown by local TV stations showed waves crashing into houses along Palu's shoreline, scattering shipping containers and flooding into a mosque in the city.
Around 16,700 people were evacuating to 24 centers in Palu.
Aftershocks rocked the coastal city until Saturday afternoon following the massive earthquake on Friday, which triggered the tsunami. The series of earthquakes were felt in an area with 2.4 million people.
Nugroho described the damage as "extensive" and said thousands of houses, hospitals, shopping malls and hotels had collapsed. A bridge washed away and the main highway to Palu was cut off due to a landslide.
Bodies of some victims were found trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, he said, adding 540 people were injured and 29 were missing. Dozens of injured people were being treated in makeshift medical tents set up outdoors, TV images showed.
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.
Nugroho said the casualties and the damage could be greater along the coastline 300 km (190 miles) north of Palu, an area called Donggala, which is closer to the epicenter of the quake.
Communications "were totally crippled with no information" from Donggala, Nugroho said. More than 600,000 people live in Donggala and Palu.
"We're now getting limited communications about the destruction in Palu city, but we have heard nothing from Donggala and this is extremely worrying. There are more than 300,000 people living there," the Red Cross said in a statement, adding that its staff and volunteers were heading to the affected areas.
"This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse," it said.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the death toll could rise to thousands.
Indonesia's meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG issued a tsunami warning after the quake, but lifted it 34 minutes later.
The agency on Saturday was widely criticized for not informing that a tsunami had hit Palu, though officials said waves had come within the time the warning was issued.
The quake and tsunami caused a major power outage that cut communications around Palu making it difficult for authorities to coordinate rescue efforts.
The military has started sending in cargo planes with aid, authorities said, from Jakarta and other cities, but evacuees still badly need food and other basic necessities.
Indonesia tsunami: Rescuers struggle to reach cut-off city of nearly 300,000 people after disaster kills hundreds
Rescuers are struggling to reach Donggala, a city of nearly 300,000 people in Indonesia, after a 7.5-magnitude earthquake and a powerful tsunami hit the coast of the country, killing at least 384 and injuring hundreds more.
Power and telecommunications to the region have been cut off and the roads are damaged, leaving officials unable to reach those in need.
Aid is also yet to reach the nearby town of Mamuju, which has been severely affected by the quake.
At least 384 people were killed in the hard-hit city of Palu, Indonesia's disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
A landslide has blocked a major road leading to Palu, the capital of Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province, according to the BBC, and a key bridge crossing a coastal river has also collapsed.
Thousands of homes as well as hospital buildings have been damaged in Palu. Hundreds have been injured, leaving medical staff overwhelmed.
Tens to hundreds of people involved at a beach festival are also missing, the disaster agency said earlier.
More than half of the 560 inmates in a Palu prison fled after its walls fell during Friday's quake, according to the warden, Adhi Yan Ricoh.
"It was very hard for the security guards to stop the inmates from running away as they were so panicked and had to save themselves too," he told state news agency Antara.
Ricoh said there was no immediate plan to search for the inmates because the prison staff and police were consumed with the rescue effort.
"Don't even think to find the inmates. We don't even have time yet to report this incident to our superiors," he said.
The 3m tsunami was triggered by the earthquake and smashed into two cities and several settlements on Sulawesi island at dusk on Friday.
In some places the water rose as high as 6m.
"We got a report over the phone saying that there was a guy who climbed a tree up to 6m high," Nugroho said.
Palu, which has a population of 380,000 people, was strewn with debris from fallen buildings, including a shopping complex and a large mosque.
Aand killed at least several hundred people on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, dumping victims caught in its relentless path across a devastated landscape that rescuers were struggling to reach Saturday, hindered by damaged roads and broken communications. Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 384 people were killed in the hard-hit city of Palu alone.
The nearby city of Donggala and the town of Mamuju were also ravaged by the tsunami but have not yet been reached by aid due to damaged roads and disrupted telecommunications.
Nugroho said "tens to hundreds" of people were taking part in a beach festival in Palu when the tsunami, which was triggered by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake, struck at dusk on Friday. Their fate was unknown.
In some places, the water rose as high as 20 feet. "We got a report over the phone saying that there was a guy who climbed a tree up to 6 meters high," Nugroho said.
Palu, which has more than 380,000 people, was strewn with debris from collapsed buildings. A mosque heavily damaged by the quake was half submerged and a shopping mall was reduced to a crumpled hulk. A large bridge with yellow arches had collapsed. Bodies lay partially covered by tarpaulins and a man carried a dead child through the wreckage.
The chief of the meteorology and geophysics agency, Dwikorita Karnawati called the situation "chaotic" after the tsunami. "People are running on the streets and buildings collapsed," Karnawati told the Reuters news agency. "There is a ship washed ashore."
Communications with the area were difficult because power and telecommunications were cut, hampering search and rescue efforts.
"We hope there will be international satellites crossing over Indonesia that can capture images and provide them to us so we can use the images to prepare humanitarian aid," Nugroho said.
The disaster agency has said that essential aircraft can land at Palu's airport, though AirNav, which oversees aircraft navigation, said the runway was cracked and the control tower damaged.
AirNav said one of its air traffic controllers, aged 21, died in the quake after staying in the tower to ensure a flight he'd just cleared for departure got airborne safely. It did.
More than half of the 560 inmates in a Palu prison fled after its walls collapsed during Friday's quake, said its warden, Adhi Yan Ricoh.