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Economy

Indonesian death toll reaches 832 after quake and tsunami

Damaged roads and ports hinder rescue and supply efforts

Search workers help rescue a person trapped in rubble following the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Indonesia.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- At least 832 people are confirmed killed by the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday, with the death toll expected to rise further as some regions remain inaccessible to search and rescue teams.

The 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit the province of Central Sulawesi along with the subsequent tsunami -- with waves of up to 6 meters -- affected the provincial capital of Palu and the surrounding regencies of Donggala, Sigi and Parigi Moutong. More than 500 people are severely injured, while over 16,000 have been displaced.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, or BNPB, told reporters that Palu is the only damaged region accessible to search and rescue teams. Severe damage to roads creates difficulty sending in heavy equipment to help evacuate the victims.

"We [still] can't have communications and access with the three surrounding regencies," he said.

Fifty to 60 victims are thought to be buried under the destroyed Hotel Roa Roa in Palu, BNPB said. The quake and tsunami affected 71 foreigners, with one South Korean, one Malaysian and three from France still unaccounted for. The South Korean may have been staying at the collapsed Hotel Roa Roa.

The death toll could reach into the thousands, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla told reporters in Hong Kong, where he was on his way home from attending the United Nations General Assembly.

"Based on the experience of tackling the tsunami disaster in Aceh in 2004, the number of fatalities that will be recorded continues to increase as the emergency response progresses," he said. "The first day of the tsunami in Aceh, someone told me only seven -- first hour. In the afternoon he said 40, after that it continued to rise."

"The number of victims of the tsunami in Palu could be up to 1,000," the vice president said. "That is normal."

Indonesia's Baiturrahman Mosque was hit by a tsunami after the Sept. 28 earthquake near Palu in Central Sulawesi Province.   © Reuters

The tsunami has destroyed ports, and the region is unable to accept necessities like gasoline.

President Joko Widodo flew to Palu on Sunday to assess the damage. He told the Indonesian Armed Forces, on the ground for relief efforts, to work with the National Police and relevant agencies to "immediately solve the problems."

Fishing and farming have been important to Central Sulawesi's economy, but nickel mining also has taken off in recent years, with heavy investment from China. Mining is concentrated in the Morowali regency on the opposite coast of Sulawesi, and is believed to be unaffected.

The province also promotes tourism, with some small islands in Tomini Bay off Palu and other coastal areas popular among divers.

Indonesia is no stranger to major earthquakes and tsunamis, sitting on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire. In 2004, a major earthquake on the western coast of Aceh Province in northern Sumatra triggered a massive tsunami, affecting 14 countries and killing 226,000 people. A 2010 earthquake that struck one of the Mentawai islands off Sumatra caused a tsunami with heights of up to 5 meters.

The famous tourist island of Lombok was hit by a series of earthquakes in August 2018, killing more than 500 people as the quake destroyed thousands of buildings.

Nikkei staff writers Erwida Maulia and Bobby Nugroho contributed to this article.

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